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Further changes recommended to modernised border legislation

09 March 2017

The New Zealand Law Society has urged Parliament to consider its recommended changes to New Zealand’s border legislation to ensure the law remains fit for purpose in future.

The Law Society has presented its submission on the Customs and Excise Bill to the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade select committee.

The bill updates New Zealand’s border legislation to take account of technological, trade and security changes over the past two decades, and the Law Society has identified some areas where the bill could be further improved.

“The Law Society acknowledges that sharing of border information is often important, for instance to verify people’s identity and ensure security. However, further protections are required to ensure that information sharing occurs in a transparent and trustworthy way,” Law Society spokesperson Katrine Evans told the select committee.

She says the bill as it stands would allow any government agency to directly access Customs’ databases for many different purposes.

“While direct access can be efficient and useful, it needs to be carefully controlled and justified. It should not create a backdoor that inadvertently allows other agencies to circumvent existing safeguards or legal restraints,” she says.

Ms Evans says the bill would also allow Customs to share information with other agencies using administrative agreements, with no Parliamentary oversight.

“This is unacceptably broad. If the Bill is going to allow for these agreements, it needs to contain stricter safeguards for personal privacy,” she says.

The Law Society also recommends limiting the purposes for which biometric information – fingerprints, photos and iris-scans – collected on departure can be retained, used and disclosed.

“The current purposes are broadly stated and unclear, and leave open the possibility that Customs could act as a general collection agent for a foreign authority. Adding some limitations will help to assure people that their information will not be misused or disclosed to those who are not entitled to receive it,” Ms Evans says.

The Law Society accepts that searches of electronic devices at the border are often appropriate, and welcomes many aspects of the proposed constraints relating to the searches. However, it is concerned about the scope of some of the search and seizure provisions.

“Those concerns include the need for backstop protections for privacy in situations where sensitive personal and confidential material is stored on the devices,” Law Society spokesperson Steven Price says.

Mr Price says collection of irrelevant material through such searches is inevitable.

“Controls are therefore required to ensure that irrelevant material is not kept, used and disclosed to others. The bill should also be amended to ensure privileged information is protected, consistent with the approach taken in the Search and Surveillance Act 2012,” Mr Price says.

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Last updated on the 9th March 2017