Police can conduct further surveillance of New Zealand's population but should be more transparent and minimise privacy intrusions, including on people's smartphones, a new report has found.

The Law Commission and the Ministry of Justice's joint review of the Search and Surveillance Act re-examined the balance between enabling effective law enforcement and protecting people's human rights.

The review's 67 recommendations were released today and now await a Government response.

Law Commissioner Donna Buckingham said the act, which governs the search and surveillance activities of police and some other enforcement agencies, is already working well after becoming law in 2012.


"The act does not need a major overhaul. All we are proposing are amendments to make the law clearer and to update it in response to the effects of new technology," she said.

The review proposed requiring enforcement officers to take into account certain principles before exercising search and surveillance powers, such as the need to minimise privacy intrusions.

It also includes recommendations to regulate undercover operations and to limit the ability to search an electronic device, such as a smartphone, without a warrant.

The report's issues paper states that search and surveillance powers are an "essential tool in the armoury of the agencies that investigate and prosecute crime", but human rights, particularly those rights relating to privacy, personal integrity, property and the rule of law need to be protected.

"There is little to be gained by empowering agencies of the state to investigate crime if, in doing so, we erode the basic rights we value as a society and create fear or suspicion of the Government among the very people it exists to protect," the paper reads.

Since 2012, technology has developed rapidly, affecting surveillance operations, the Law Commission conceded.

The independent crown entity said people and organisations generate more data than ever before and store it in several ways and places - much of which is online.

But surveillance technologies have also developed, it said.

Buckingham added that it is important for police and other enforcement agencies to be able to keep up with these developments.

"Police officers need to access data and to use new technologies to investigate crime, but people also have a right to privacy and personal integrity. Our search and surveillance laws need to balance those interests."

The act sought to, as much as possible, bring the rules governing state intrusion into individuals' privacy for law enforcement and regulatory compliance under one piece of legislation,

It provides authority for the use of tools such as search warrants, surveillance device warrants, production orders and examination orders, and confers some warrantless powers on police. It also controls how search powers are exercised.

The legislation can also be used by other enforcement officers from other government agencies.

Enforcement officers include animal welfare inspectors, fisheries inspectors, product safety officers, food officers, forestry officers, gambling inspectors, immigration officers, inspectors of weights and measures, marine mammals officers, meat board auditors, park rangers, and wildlife rangers.