Audrey Young is the New Zealand Herald’s political editor.

Peters wants spy law updated fast

Winston Peters said his caucus would discuss the invitation today. Photo / Sarah Ivey
Winston Peters said his caucus would discuss the invitation today. Photo / Sarah Ivey

New Zealand First leader Winston Peters says he wants the GCSB law clarified as quickly as possible with as little politicking as possible.

When he was Foreign Minister, he received regular briefings about the work of the Government Communications Security Bureau, which focuses on foreign intelligence, and that had shaped his view in a world dogged by international terrorism, especially against the West.

"You can't stand by and do nothing when one day you may face countless families and explain why your inertia caused this to happen. I'm not going to set myself or my party in that position," Mr Peters told the Herald last night.

Prime Minister John Key yesterday released draft legislation essentially legalising surveillance of New Zealanders in certain situations and is seeking a meeting with Mr Peters to discuss the bill.

Mr Peters said his caucus would discuss the invitation today and look at the legislation.

"Our gut instinct is to take the issue very, very seriously," he said.

"I do not think it should be a political matter. I do not think you should pass it by a bare parliamentary majority. I really think that parliamentarians have got to step up and take responsibility for this issue."

Mr Peters said such a bill should have the capacity to survive the next election and the election beyond that - if it was sound legislation.

"I really cannot emphasise how important it is not to leave a huge gaping hole in our law for months or even years before fixing it up."

Under past practice - which has been suspended pending the law change - the GCSB has spied on New Zealanders when it was assisting a number of other agencies that had warrants, primarily the police, Defence Force and Security Intelligence Service.

Crown Law has previously advised the Government that such surveillance of New Zealanders and permanent residents is lawful but it is now believed that it could be illegal.

The bill will legalise such future work in assisting the police, defence and the SIS so long as it is undertaken with a warrant. It also works occasionally with Customs and Immigration NZ.

They are not included in the gambit of the draft legislation. However, the bill allows Cabinet to approve other agencies by regulation at a later date.

Last month, Mr Peters set out New Zealand First's conditions for supporting the amending legislation and last night he described them as "the minimum" conditions. They are:

•Each surveillance to be authorised by warrant by the responsible minister.

•The warrant to comply with specified criteria to identify the potential security risk.

•It must state the method of surveillance and the timeframe of the operation.

•Every warrant must be reviewed within three weeks by an independent authority selected from the judiciary, Defence Force and police.

The issue of the GCSB surveillance of internet mogul Kim Dotcom, a permanent resident, shone a spotlight on GCSB practices and led to a review of the bureau's compliance procedures by the Secretary to the Cabinet, Rebecca Kitteridge.

But spying on him was unlawful under the current law and would be under the proposed amendments because the surveillance was done without a warrant.

- NZ Herald

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