SIS bill passes first reading

A bill that gives the Security Intelligence Service (SIS) stronger surveillance powers passed its first reading in Parliament today with the support of all parties except the Greens.

Attorney-General Chris Finlayson said during the first reading debate existing legislation was more than 40 years old and had to be brought up to date so the SIS had the legal authority to deal with high-tech communications like computers and mobile phones.

It also gives the SIS explicit authority to use electronic tracking devices.

Mr Finlayson said the stringent conditions for issuing surveillance warrants was not being changed.

Labour's deputy leader, Annette King, said her party would support the bill but it was necessary to very carefully balance national security against human rights and the right to privacy.

Green Party MP Keith Locke said the SIS was the most unaccountable of all government agencies and had used its powers to spy on political dissenters, including himself.

Mr Locke has previously revealed the file the SIS once held on him.

Maori Party MP Hone Harawira said his party didn't have a problem with safeguarding national security but it had "grave doubts" about the SIS using its powers to snoop on law-abaiding citizens.

Labour and the Greens urged the Government to hold committee hearings on the bill in public.

Prime Minister John Key said on Monday hearings would be held in secret, but yesterday he said he was reconsidering that decision.

Mrs King said public submissions should be held in open session unless they were particularly sensitive in terms of national security.

The bill passed its first reading on a vote of 111 to 9 and was sent to the Intelligence and Security Committee for public submissions.

- NZPA

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