Right to silence cancelled

It’s great that the NZ Herald, in an editorial this morning , recognises that “New Zealanders stand to lose some hard-won freedoms under a bill [the Search and Surveillance Bill] moving largely under the radar through Parliament.”

Decoding that sentence, it means we should have taken the Greens and community organisations more seriously when they criticised the Bill. The Herald has had reporters at two sets of Select Committee hearings, in 2009 and 2010, where the criticism the Herald is now raising was aired. The Herald is also aware of the nationwide rallies and protest marches since the Labour government introduced the Bill in 2008.

Perhaps what tipped the balance for the Herald was a realisation that the Bill enables the Police, and a range of other state agencies, to raid their offices and seize documents which disclose their sources. This is done through what are called Production Orders, which requires anyone who has material relating to an offence to produce it, or face a sentence of up to a year’s jail.

Also rightly worrying the Herald are Examination Orders, which require people to answer questions about more serious crime, again under threat of jail. This cancels our traditional right to silence. As an example, Tuhoe friends of Tame Iti could be forced to answer questions because the offence Tame is charged with, belonging to an organised criminal group, qualifies for an Examination Order under this Bill.

The Herald rightly says that the Examination and Production Orders, when applied to the media, do matter to the public. “Important revelations of wrongdoing by criminals, business or political leaders and, crucially, investigating authorities themselves are invariably from confidential sources.”

I would advise the Herald to take a closer look at some of the other oppressive provisions in the Bill, like the surveillance warrants that allow Police to place covert cameras inside people’s living rooms for certain offences. For a summary of the problems with the Bill see my Green Party Minority report in the report back to Parliament from the Justice and Electoral Select Committee.

For further information on the Bill go to our search and surveillance webpage

4 Comments Posted

  1. Craig:

    1) If reporters are required to disclose their sources to the police, don’t you think this will reduce the chance people will give information (anonymously) to reporters? So the reporter will not have any information to give the police in any case, and secondly, the quality of reporting will suffer (because people will clam up around reporters just as they do around the police).

    2) What would you do if you were aware of your wife or children having been allegedly involved in some illegal activity (because from Keith’s minority report, it seems the police only have to _suspect_ someone of a crime, which is quite different than them having actually committed the crime). OK … it obviously depends on the situation, but I can think of lots of situations where I would have absolutely no inclination to tell the police anything, and if I couldn’t convince them I knew nothing, would rather take the threat of jail than say anything.
    It strikes me as grossly unfair I would have to tell the police anything I knew about my family, and if forced to, I would rather lie.

  2. It’s a pretty fine line between balancing idealism and pragmatism. Im sorry, maybe im being cynical, but if the Herald held genuine information that could endanger innocent lives would they turn it over to Police of their own accord?

    Again, call me a cynic, but what makes a better story. Police foil terrorist plot or 50 dead in terrotist bombing. I just find it hard to believe that the Herald or any other media outlet in this country is acting in anyones interests but their own.

  3. The Greens fill the political role that the American Civil Liberties Union serves in the USA. I lived in NZ for 7 years, and the Greens consistently fight for human and civil rights. They alone of the parties present in a Dunedin town hall meeting in 2004 supported NZ having an entrenched constitution and bill of rights. NZ is, I believe, the last democracy on Earth without such guarantees of rights. The UK now falls under the European Union framework, so Parliament is no longer supreme there.

    It should worry people not to have such protections. Next thing you know, Parliament will restrict the right to belong to a religion or to petition the government for redress of grievances.

    Slippery slope.

    Andrew Straw
    B.A., M.Sc., J.D. (Indiana)
    Fmr Assistant Dean for International Programmes, Indiana University-Maurer School of Law

  4. Forgive me if this sounds naive, but is this not merely the legitimization of something that has been done illegally for years?
    It may even lead to a higher standard of source information – and my current read of the Govt. is they lack enough information to make fair decisions.
    In dealing with local bureaucracies I’ve oft felt that gossip and a ‘good story’ too often obscure the truth, obviating an arrival at fair decisions

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