'Chilling' surveillance bill sent back for rewrite

Last updated 05:00 25/05/2010

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Sweeping changes to search and surveillance laws have been sent back to the drawing board after a widespread outcry.

Critics labelled the Search and Surveillance Bill "chilling" and said it gave a raft of state agencies – including council dog-control officers and meat inspectors – sweeping powers to spy, bug conversations and hack into private computers.

The chairman of Parliament's justice committee, Chester Borrows, said it was never Parliament's intention to bestow such powers and blamed the confusion on poorly worded legislation.

"We've looked at the bill too and we are concerned by some of the language ... we can see how people ended up [so concerned]."

The legislation was now likely to be delayed until next year to allow time to rewrite it and take public concerns into account. Those who gave evidence to the select committee would be given time to consider the new proposals and make fresh submissions.

The bill is based on a 2007 Law Commission report and brings together police powers from several statutes.

It details powers including the ability to carry out video surveillance, install tracking devices, detain people during a search, stop vehicles without a warrant and access computers remotely to trawl through records.

Opponents, including the Human Rights Commission, complained it bestowed the same powers indiscriminately to agencies including Inland Revenue, the Meat Board, local councils, the Overseas Investment Office, Accident Compensation Corporation, the Environment Risk Management Authority, Agriculture and Forestry Ministry and the Pork Industry Board.

But Mr Borrows said MPs had been repeatedly assured that was not the case.

"That was all wrong actually. All that those agencies will be able to do is what the law allows them to do now."

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