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Changes to search and surveillance law recommended

30 January 2018

The Law Commission has released a final report on its joint review of the Search and Surveillance Act 2012 with the Ministry of Justice.

The report, Review of the Search and Surveillance Act 2012, recommends that Police should be able to conduct a wider range of surveillance but should exercise their powers more transparently.

"Our view is that the Search and Surveillance Act is generally working well," it says.

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"None of our recommendations propose a major overhaul of the Act. We consider that some areas of the Act would benefit from clarification and that, in other areas, it is worth updating the Act to reflect international trends in search and surveillance law."

The report says the review has identified two wider problems: key aspects of search and surveillance law are contained in case law and are not evidence on the face of the Act; and, the Act has not kept pace with developments in technology.

Law Commissioner Donna Buckingham says since 2012 when the Act became law, technology has moved on. People and organisations generate far more data than ever before and store it in a wide variety of places, including online. New surveillance technologies have also developed.

She says it is important for Police and other enforcement agencies to be able to keep up with these developments.

"Police officers need to access data and to use new technologies to investigate crime, but people also have a right to privacy and personal integrity. Our search and surveillance laws need to balance those interests."

The report proposes requiring enforcement officers to take into account certain principles before exercising search and surveillance powers, such as the need to minimise privacy intrusions. It also includes recommendations to regulate undercover operations and to limit the ability to search an electronic device, such as a smartphone, without a warrant.

Last updated on the 1st February 2018