Committee to examine email snooping

Last updated 14:52 11/07/2013

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Parliament's Speaker David Carter has referred questions about a journalist and MP having their emails and movements tracked by an inquiry to Parliament's high powered privileges committee.

Carter said the issues were serious and should be investigated.

The ruling follows an allegation of contempt against Prime Minister John Key by Green Party co-leader Russel Norman, who questioned whether the release of meta data and surveillance records to an inquiry headed by top public servant David Henry was lawful.

Carter said Norman's complaint raised serious issues.

"The exercise of intrusive powers against members threatens members freedom to carry out their functions as elected representatives and the Houses power to control its own proceedings and precincts without outside interference," Carter told Parliament.

"The release of information from parliamentary information and security systems relating to the movement of journalists within the parliamentary precincts has also been questioned," he said.

"While the media do not necessarily participate directly in parliamentary proceedings they are critical to informing the public about what Parliament is doing and public confidence in Parliament. Actions that may put at risk journalists ability to report freely are a significant concern. The Parliamentary precincts are also a work place for both Parliamentary employees and the employees  of government departments."

Carter said access to parliamentary information and security systems data of any sort must therefore also have regard to the respective rights of employers and employees, and the role of the speaker and Prime Minister as responsible ministers.

"I believe some sort of common understanding is required to ensure that on the one hand the functioning of the House and the discharge of members duties is not impeded or obstructed but on the other the maintenance of law and order and the ability to investigate and prosecute offences committed within the Parliamentary precinct is preserved."

He had determined that a question of privilege had arisen and referred the matter to the privileges committee for investigation.

The questions follow revelations Parliamentary Service handed over truncated email records from the account of United Future leader Peter Dunne, without his permission.

The emails were sought by Henry for his inquiry into the leak of a report on the Government Communications Security Bureau.

It also emerged Henry obtained surveillance records of Fairfax journalist Andrea Vance, who obtained the leaked report.

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