Law enforcement agencies could get new powers to access information stored through cloud-based technology or social media.

Justice Minister Amy Adams has started a review of the Search and Surveillance Act 2012.

"Since the Act was drafted, technology and the way people use it has evolved. For example, smart devices, apps and social media now allow people to create, access and share huge amounts of information in an increasing variety of ways. Also, the use of cloud-based services has increased markedly," Ms Adams said.

Amy Adams says the use of cloud-based services has increased markedly. Photo / Marty Melville
Amy Adams says the use of cloud-based services has increased markedly. Photo / Marty Melville

"When investigating and prosecuting crime, this has changed the type of information that law enforcement agencies may need to access and can pose challenges to their ability to access it.


"When considering these issues, it's important to take into account the potential implications for people's privacy, as well as other rights the Act recognises."

A terms of reference for the review, released today, said it would also consider whether the law should be changed to enable the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) and the Security Intelligence Service (SIS) to support police investigations in more situations.

That change was proposed in a wide-ranging intelligence and security review, released in March.

The security report was received by members of the Intelligence and Security Committee, a statutory panel including Labour Party leader Andrew Little.

Prime Minister John Key has said he will be trying to get bipartisan support from Labour for changes to the intelligence services in the wake of a review.

Other agencies have struggled with the question of how to access needed information, while protecting privacy.

Last month, Customs Minister Nicky Wagner announced a limited power for Customs to access electronic devices, after push-back from the Office of the Privacy Commissioner, Ministry of Justice and the Act Party.

When proposed changes were released by Customs in a discussion document last year, a particularly controversial area was about access to electronic devices.

Currently, when Customs examines a person's electronic device, the law does not specifically require the owner to provide a password or encryption key.

The agency says if people refuse, it can access the device by detaining it and sending it to electronic forensics staff. It is not an offence to fail to turn over a password or encryption key.

Customs' preferred option was to require passwords for electronic devices without meeting a threshold, such as suspicion of criminal activity.

Ms Wagner has confirmed it will likely get powers requiring a person to provide a password or access to their electronic devices -- but a threshold such as suspicion of criminal activity will have to be met.