30 Oct 2009

'Misunderstanding' over surveillance, search laws reforms

4:03 pm on 30 October 2009

The Law Commission says there has been a lot of misunderstanding over how much power authorities will have under the government's Search and Surveillance Bill.

The new legislation aims to change the law to keep up with changing technology, and iron out some inconsistencies in the current surveillance law.

However, it has been delayed from November until next May because of criticism of the extent of the changes.

Commission deputy president Warren Young says that, contrary to some beliefs, the bill doesn't allow authorities unmitigated access to people's computers.

"The warrant power under this bill still has to be specific about what you're looking for. You cannot go into a computer on a fishing expedition, and every submitter who said that this will allow you to do that is simply wrong."

Mr Young says the legislation actually offers a series of safeguards surrounding searches and surveillance.

Civil Liberties Council relieved

The Council for Civil Liberties says it's relieved and grateful that the reforms have been delayed.

The council say it's worried about the state using coercive power to extract information from citizens who are presumed innocent and may never be charged.

It says the committee's delay may mean it's now pausing for thought.

Select committee chairman Chester Burrows says many submitters appear to have the "wrong end of the stick" about the bill.

He says agencies that do not have a regulatory function will not get an extension of powers.