Counter-Terrorism Bill – First Reading

The Greens will be voting against this bill, despite some good clauses in it, because it is a fraudulent bill.

It is a fraudulent bill because although it is called the Counter-Terrorism Bill, much of the bill has nothing to do with terrorism or counter-terrorism. I am referring to the many amendments to the Crimes Act, the Misuse of Drugs Act, and the Summary Proceedings Act, which have nothing to do with terrorism and are sneaked into the bill because the Government knows that if a counter-terrorism label is put on amendments members will be more reluctant to oppose them.

Let us go into some of those amendments. Clauses 8 and 26 amend the Crimes Act and the Misuse of Drugs Act, not because of anything to do with terrorism. The explanatory note makes it clear that those provisions are to overturn part of the Court of Appeal’s decision

R v Aranui

4 years ago. An element of that Court of Appeal decision was that they could not use interception warrants for fishing expeditions because they are an intrusion on our privacy. However, the two amendments in the bill before us will mean that warrants obtained to gather evidence on something like theft will be able to be used to fish for evidence on things not specified in the warrant, like drug offences, or vice versa.

Other amendments are to the Summary Proceedings Act and they also extend police surveillance powers, with no special reference to terrorism. These involve giving the police broad powers, generally after a warrant is obtained, to use tracking devices to follow where people go. Most people will think this is about tracking devices on cars, but it can be tracking devices secreted on any “thing”. These “things” could be people’s clothing or their bags. Electronic devices are now so small that this is feasible, and the devices could be easily linked up with the GPS system so that a person under surveillance could be tracked everywhere they go. This is a very intrusive provision, which up till now has been generally restricted to drug offences, and has now been generalised to cover police investigations into virtually any crime.

We have to be very careful about giving police these extra powers to invade the privacy of suspects in this way, even if they have to produce a good case before or after the fact to the judge handing out the warrant. We have not heard a good argument for granting this extension of police powers.

There is also an extra search power being granted under the same Summary Proceedings Act. A constable executing a search warrant will be able to demand of a person in the place being searched, help in getting any information off any computer located on the premises. The police do not – unlike what Phil Goff said – have to have a specific court order for this. If a person does not cooperate he or she could be up for 3 months in jail. In practice, they will have to give over any encryption devices or get round any firewalls for the police. Normally people are not supposed to be forced to incriminate themselves. Here they are being forced to participate in perhaps their own incrimination. It is a big intrusion on our privacy to give constables this generalised power, because a large part of our life is often on our computers.

One of the Green Party’s concerns with the Terrorism Suppression Act passed last year was that legitimate protesters might be convicted as terrorists, because the definition of a terrorist act was so broad. Terrorism, under that bill, could involve causing serious economic loss or seriously destructing an infrastructure facility in a way likely to endanger human life.

This new Counter- Terrorism Bill confirms our fears that protesters are more of a likely target of such legislation than terrorists. Clause 7, which amends the Crimes Act, has an even more general provision that could apply to protesters, without any specific relevance at all to terrorism. To be liable for a term of up to 7 years, one only needs” to intend to cause significant disruption to commercial interests or government interests”, and to communicate information about harm to people or property in this regard. Surely this would cover many, perhaps most, cases of non-violent civil disobedience, like we saw in the 1981 protests against the Springbok Rugby Tour. It could also apply to those anti-GB citizens currently talking about taking action against GE crops, the planting of which in New Zealand would so endanger our health and economic future. No one is saying that people involved in civil disobedience should not be subject to the law, but why do we need this broad and harsh new provision governing what people say.

When we look at all the provisions I have mentioned-none of which has anything specifically to do with terrorism-they do represent a serious undermining of our civil liberties. They challenge a number of provisions in the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act.

The provision on communicating information on harm to property conflicts with a freedom of expression provision in the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act. That provision states: “everyone has the right to freedom of expression, including the freedom to seek, receive and impart information and opinions of any kind in any form.”

The New Zealand Bill of Rights Act provision against unreasonable search and seizure should also restrain unreasonable demands constables will be able to make on people, as regards people having to disclose all the contents of their computers. The New Zealand Bill of Rights Act provision should also mean that we want to limit the very broad and loose use of search and surveillance warrants. The clauses in the current bill, whereby police can get an interception warrant for, say, drugs, and then use that warrant to fish for evidence on other crimes, is not compatible with the spirit of the unreasonable search provision in the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act. It could also be used in some cases to persecute people, to keep them under surveillance until the police have something on them, allegedly for some crime.

It also challenges our right to privacy under the Privacy Act.

All that being said, there is a part of this bill, Part 2, that has some good features. This is the part that amends not the Crimes Act, etc. but the Terrorism Suppression Act 2002, to adhere to some good international conventions, such as the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material, and the Convention on the Marking of Plastic Explosives for the Purpose of Detection. The Green Party does not quarrel with these conventions.

We are a nuclear-free country, so of course we should be implementing legislation controlling the importation, acquisition, possession, or control over radioactive material. We are also clearly against the use and movement of unmarked plastic explosives. These are practical measures against criminal behaviour, using plastic explosives and nuclear materials. It is important that New Zealand is at the forefront of the international campaign against the smuggling of nuclear materials, and adhering to all the appropriate treaties.

However, other courses in Part 2 amending the Terrorism Suppression Act only reinforce the bad provisions of this Act, which the “” Greens opposed last year. If the wrong people or groups – that is, genuine political activists – are designated as terrorists, then the harbouring and related provisions in this bill will only reinforce the injustice that could flow from the existing Act. These result from the overly broad definition of terrorism in that Act. There is also the political nature of the process of designating terrorists and terrorist organisations, and the lack of full due process in the appeal system where by people can be designated as terrorists without even in subsequent appeal situations having the right to see all the information being used against them, if it be deemed to be classified and secret.

I have focused on the problems with Parts 1 and 3 of the bill that do not relate at all to the Terrorism Suppression Act. The problem with this bill is that it is using people’s revulsion of terrorism to justify a serious undermining of our civil liberties.

The Government should think again. If it wants to get us adhering to international treaties on plastic explosives and nuclear materials, do that in a separate bill devoted to it. The Greens will support it. If the Government wants to do a completely different thing, relating to general surveillance and search, do that in a separate bill, amending the Crimes Act the Summary Offences Act and the Misuse of Drugs Act and let us have a proper discussion free of any scare talk about terrorism.

We have to wake up to the fact that the so-called “war against terrorism” is being used as an excuse for a serious infringement of our human rights. This is particularly true in the United States under the Bush administration, but it is also happening in other countries, including New Zealand. The problem should not be made worse, as is being done in this bill. This bill is a compendium bill that mixes up the good bits relating to real dangers with bad bits.