Friday, September 23, 2011

A blank cheque

Thanks to the Labour Party, the government's draft Video Camera Surveillance (Temporary Measures) (AKA Rule of Law Repeal) Bill is now available [PDF]. The bill is very short, and is basically a blank cheque for police. Whatever video surveillance they've done, now or in the past, is declared lawful, except in regards to the Urewera 18 case. And they get to keep doing whatever they're doing for the next year, with no requirement for warrants or to prove that such surveillance is necessary.

Its hard to see how such a bill can pass the test of being "demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society" required for consistency with the BORA. Free and democratic societies do not give their police a blank cheque to spy on the general populace whenever and however they want. They require warrants, and for more intrusive surveillance measures (such as using cameras where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy), some test of necessity and proportionality to the crime. The relevant part of the Search and Surveillance Bill contains such safeguards. And that is what the government should be passing, with prospective force. As for their past surveillance activities, the police knowingly broke the law, and they should pay the price - not just in lost cases, but in sackings and resignations. A lawless police force acting under colour of authority is simply a criminal gang by another name, and it must be held to account.