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Spy agencies to get new powers

NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 15/08/2016

The SIS and the GCSB are going to be covered by a single Act, and they'll have a mandate to spy on New Zealanders under a strict "triple lock" warrant system.

Prime Minister John Key announced the proposed law changes on Monday - a bill has been introduced to parliament and will be given its first reading on Thursday.

Labour says it will support the bill on its first reading, but it thinks amendments will be needed to further protect privacy.

Under current law the Security Intelligence Service can put New Zealanders under surveillance while the Government Communications Security Bureau, which has more sophisticated eavesdropping equipment, gathers foreign intelligence.

The GCSB can only carry out domestic surveillance when it is asked to by other agencies, which have to provide a warrant.

Under the new laws, the two agencies will have a common warrant system involving the attorney-general, the commissioner of warrants, and the inspector-general of intelligence and security.

Mr Key says they will only use those warrants in cases of national security, and the changes are needed because of the evolving security situation.

"It is vital our agencies operate under legislation which enables them to be effective in an increasingly complex security environment, where we are confronted by growing numbers of cyber threats and the rise of terrorist groups like ISIL," he said on Monday.

The bill is the government's response to a statutory review of the laws covering the agencies, carried out earlier this year by Sir Michael Cullen and Dame Patsy Reddy.

They released their report in March, saying restrictions that stopped the GCSB spying on New Zealanders should be scrapped, but the change shouldn't be made without putting a high-level warrant process in place.

They also said the two security agencies should be covered by a single Act of parliament.

Speaking ahead of Monday's cabinet meeting and the signing-off of the bill, Mr Key said there were good reasons for authorising the GCSB to carry out surveillance on New Zealanders.

"In the end, there are people that want to do some things we need to both understand and, secondly, potentially stop," he said.

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