Search and surveillance bill needs human rights safeguards - RePress

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Saturday, October 24

Search and surveillance bill needs human rights safeguards

The Human Rights Commission says the Search and Surveillance bill must include explicit reference to human rights principles before it becomes law.

Chief Human Rights Commissioner Rosslyn Noonan said by doing so Parliament would help to address concerns the proposed bill risks infringing on rights set out in the Bill of Rights Act.

“Human rights and law enforcement complement each other. If search powers go too far, they won’t have community support; if law enforcement can’t be carried out effectively, it can not preserve the community’s safety,” she said to the Justice and Electoral Select Committee considering the bill today.

She said the Commission supported the aim to create a consistent and updated law about search and surveillance for law enforcement.

The Commission has direct knowledge of the confusion around issues such as surveillance warrants and searching computers. It dealt with complaints about the Police action known as Operation 8, which involved raids throughout the country.

But Ms Noonan said search and surveillance powers are among the State’s most coercive and are open to abuse if sufficient human rights safeguards are not put in place.

The Commission challenged a number of provisions in the bill including:
  • the Attorney-General’s power to authorise “any other person” to issue search and surveillance warrants – currently only judges, court registrars and JPs may do so
  • the extension of the search and surveillance powers to government agencies beyond the Police and Security Intelligence Service, without any specific justification provided to the public.
The Commission also raised serious objections to the likely impact on journalists’ ability to protect confidential sources.

Among other recommendations the Commission urged the Select Committee to consider were:
  • raise the threshold for granting a search warrant so the applicant has to have a reasonable belief (not just a suspicion) that evidence will be found
  • increase the age at which a young person can consent to a search to 18 years of age (not 14 as the bill states)
  • restrict the use of examination orders, which as proposed is unreasonably broad, to assessments of complex documents for fraud purposes, thus limiting the possibility of self-incrimination
  • preserve the tradition that journalists should be able to protect confidential sources unless otherwise ordered by a judge.

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