The New Zealand Law Society believes legislation to improve the transparency and oversight of New Zealand’s intelligence and security agencies is a positive development, but recommends strengthening some of the proposed safeguards to enhance public confidence.
The Law Society presented its submission on the New Zealand Intelligence and Security Bill today to the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade select committee.
“The Law Society acknowledges that intrusions into privacy are to some extent an inevitable consequence of the activities of intelligence organisations, but those intrusions should be strictly limited to what is proportionate and should be subject to strong oversight and review”, Law Society spokesperson Jonathan Orpin told the select committee.
“The bill provides some additional protections for personal privacy which the Law Society welcomes, but considers that in some areas the bill should go further,” Mr Orpin said.
The Law Society recommends a number of changes to strengthen the safeguards in the bill.
“For instance, the Law Society believes that intelligence should be collected using the least intrusive means possible and open source collection of information is preferred where possible, and recommends this general principle is added to the bill”.
“It would also enhance transparency and public confidence if the bill required the intelligence agencies to report yearly on their direct access to other government agencies’ databases,” Mr Orpin said.
The concept of ‘national security’ is of central importance to the legislation. The Law Society believes the bill’s definition of ‘national security’ is balanced and workable and should be retained.
“The bill makes it clear that New Zealanders can be targeted, but only if doing so is necessary to protect national security”, Mr Orpin said.
The Law Society opposes an alternative definition proposed by officials and says this would carry a risk that warrants to target New Zealanders may be issued for wider law enforcement purposes rather than to protect national security.
The bill implements wide-ranging recommendations from a recent independent review of the intelligence and security agencies by Hon Sir Michael Cullen and Dame Patsy Reddy. The review emphasised the need to improve transparency and oversight to give the public greater confidence that the agencies – the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) and the New Zealand Security Intelligence Service (NZSIS) – are acting lawfully and appropriately.