John Key has promised the Security Intelligence Service will get more powers and staff to respond rapidly to potential threats by New Zealand-based supporters of the jihadist terrorist group Isis (Islamic State) that has taken over parts of Iraq and Syria.
And he has signalled a more active role for New Zealand in the Five Eyes intelligence alliance with the United States, Britain, Australia and Canada.
And in an indirect criticism of Israel, he said the high number of civilian casualties in Gaza recently and the lack of movement on a two-state solution in relation to Palestine made the task of recruiters to extremist causes "a significantly easier one".
The Prime Minister said yesterday that up to 40 people were on a watch list for New Zealand agencies in the foreign fighter context and another 40 required investigation. Since a law was passed in 2005 allowing the cancellation of passports, nine have been cancelled, most in the last two or three years. Five New Zealanders were known to be fighting in Syria.
Under proposed law changes, the SIS would be able to conduct video surveillance on private property with a warrant and SIS director Rebecca Kitteridge would be able to authorise emergency surveillance for up to 48 hours without a warrant.
Ms Kitteridge would have to be satisfied that the threshold for issuing a warrant would be met and Mr Key would expect the service to declare how many times it used the power.
If a warrant were to be subsequently turned down by Chris Finlayson and the Commissioner of Security Warrants, any material collected during the surveillance would have to be destroyed, Mr Key said. Labour will support the legislation but cautioned against emergency warrants becoming the norm.
Mr Key also announced a $7 million boost for the agency to be used over this year and the next financial year to boost staff, at present 250, and capability in his first major national security speech.
He outlined a series of measures which he said needed to be passed quickly because of the rapidly evolving environment and the highly skilled use of the internet by Isis to recruit and spread extremist material.
Mr Key said the support of the Five Eyes partners would be an important part of how New Zealand dealt with the threat of Isis at home and abroad.
"We will be stepping up our contribution to intelligence operations that offer opportunities to further understand and potentially disrupt Isil [Isis] and we will build our capability to monitor threats from any offshoots of Isil that threaten us at home."
He said he would not go into details about what the agencies would be doing.
He ruled out New Zealand troops getting involved in combat in Iraq, but he will send up to 10 Defence Force staff to the Middle East to scope out a training role with Australia and to report back to the Cabinet. No decisions will be made this year.
Mr Key said the Muslim community made a valuable contribution and most were distressed by the actions of Isis.
- additional reporting Lincoln Tan
5 Things on the Govt's Isis to-do list
• Step up intelligence.
• Increase diplomatic efforts, including working with Indonesia and Malaysia to deal with the threat.
• Boost humanitarian assistance to the millions displaced from homes in Syria and Iraq.
• Use regular troops to train Iraqi troops within a secure base, possibly protected by SAS.
• Change laws to allow passports to be cancelled quickly and for up to 3 years instead of one; give SIS greater surveillance powers.