Monday, October 03, 2011

A quick and dirty fix

The Justice and Electoral Committee is due to report back on the Video Camera Surveillance (Temporary Measures) Bill tomorrow. I don't know what they'll come up with or how they will respond to the overwhelmingly negative submissions, but given Labour's surrender, I don't expect it to be good. Meanwhile, I've been thinking about it, and here's a quick and dirty fix:

4. Interpretation
In this Act, unless the context otherwise requires,—
private activity means activity that, in the circumstances, any 1 or more of the participants in it ought reasonably to expect is observed or recorded by no one except the participants
trespass surveillance means surveillance that involves trespass onto private property
visual surveillance device
(a) means any electronic, mechanical, electromagnetic, optical, or electro-optical instrument, apparatus, equipment, or other device that is used or is capable of being used to observe, or to observe and record, a private activity; but
(b) does not include spectacles, contact lenses, or a similar device used to correct subnormal vision of the user to no better than normal vision
visual trespass surveillance means trespass surveillance involving the use of a visual surveillance device.

5. Use of visual surveillance devices
(1) Part 11A of the Crimes Act 1961 applies, with the necessary modifications, to visual trespass surveillance and to the use of visual surveillance devices to observe or record private activity in private premises.
(2) Sections 14 - 29 of the Misuse of Drugs Amendment Act 1978 apply, with the necessary modifications, to the use of visual surveillance devices to observe or record private activity in private premises.

6. Expiry
This Act expires six months after the date on which it comes into force.

It's ugly, but it does the job: video surveillance of people in their homes or workplaces, or which requires the police to trespass to plant cameras, will require a warrant from the High Court and be limited to the offences for which a wiretap can be granted (organised crime, terrorism, serious violent crimes, and drug dealing). While "necessary modifications" clauses are generally undesirable, in this case they're significantly less undesirable than the proposed alternative - open slather for the police to film anyone they want - and the limited duration means it should not be a problem for too long. I've gone with Labour's six months rather than National's twelve because Parliament needs to focus its mind on passing the Search and Surveillance Bill to fix the problem permanently.

Note that there's nothing in there about past surveillance; that's for the courts to decide. There's also nothing about non-trespass surveillance e.g. pointing a camera at someone's front door or sticking one over a fence with permission from the relevant landowner; the courts have already shown they can decide such cases, and there isn't the same need for a prospective framework in such cases.

This was not difficult to draft, and I am surprised that both National and Labour seem to lack the wit to come up with it. Or else they regard ugly drafting as a greater sin than letting the police do whatever they want (which is, I think, getting things arse-backwards).

When the Select Committee report comes out, I'll draft this up into an SOP. And then we'll see if there are any politicians who support proper oversight of the police, rather than open slather.