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Rigorous process for surveillance warrants

NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 30/11/2016 Sean Martin

It isn't easy for the Security Intelligence Service to get surveillance warrants that authorise it to spy on New Zealanders, the man who oversees the process has told MPs.

Sir Bruce Robertson, Commissioner of Security Warrants, explained his job to the foreign affairs, defence and trade select committee on Thursday.

He said officers applying for a warrant had to put up a strong case.

"I test it with them eyeball to eyeball - is this reasonable, proportionate, necessary, and is it the only alternative," he said.

"These people know the tests they have to meet."

Sir Bruce, a retired senior judge, said it would be very unusual for an application to be refused.

"We are dealing with professionals who can read the Act as well as I can, and might know the old man is not easily fooled," he said.

"The fact that these people have to go through this rigorous exercise of preparing a file is in fact one of the greatest safeguards that exist."

Sir Bruce said his prime duty was to decide whether the scope of a warrant could be narrowed down, and sometimes they were "tweaked" as a result of his oversight.

He explained that the next step was for him to meet the minister in charge of the security services, Attorney-General Chris Finlayson.

If they were both satisfied a warrant was justified, they signed it in each other's presence.

The committee is dealing with the New Zealand Intelligence and Security Bill, which has passed its first reading.

The bill gives the security services an explicit mandate to spy on New Zealanders, and is the result of a review carried out by Sir Michael Cullen and Dame Patsy Reddy.

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