SIS The Centre Of Attention With Bill And Debate

by Desk Editor on Tuesday, November 25, 2014 — 8:41 PM

A bill giving new powers to security services has been sent to select committee just hours after an Urgent Debate on the SIS’s past activities. A bill giving new powers to security services has been sent to select committee just hours after an Urgent Debate on the SIS’s past activities.

The Countering Terrorist Fighters Legislation Bill was sent to the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Committee by 107 to 14 with the Greens opposing, though Labour, NZ First and the Maori Party all indicated their further support was conditional.

The Bill is to be reported back by December 2 with the Government intending to pass it before the summer adjournment. The vote on the truncated report back deadline was completed by 62 to 59 with National, ACT and United Future in favour. A Labour amendment asking the report back deadline be pushed to back February 10 was defeated by 59 to 62 with National, ACT and United Future opposed.

Introducing the Bill on behalf of the Prime Minister, Chris Finlayson said the bill addressed the threat from those who could become foreign fighters for terrorist organisations.

A number of people were under investigation because they could pose such a threat.

The main provisions of the bill are:

• Extending the period the Minister of Internal Affairs can cancel a passport to up to three years from the existing law’s 12 months.

• Giving the Minister of Internal Affairs the power to temporarily suspend passports for up to 10 working days in urgent cases.

• Allowing the Security Intelligence Service to carry out video surveillance on private properties for the purpose of observing activities of security concern, modelled on the Police’s powers in the Search and Surveillance Act.

• Allowing the SIS to conduct emergency surveillance for up to 48 hours prior to the issue of a warrant, with the approval of its Director and subject to the oversight of the Inspector General of Intelligence and Security.

Mr Finlayson said the Bill would be passed before Christmas because of the urgent need to fill gaps in security legislation. The bill had a sunset clause set for 2018, but a full review of security law to take place next year would overtake this process.

Labour Leader Andrew Little said his party had looked askance at the bill which will further erode human rights such as giving the power of warrantless actions to security services and wanted to know in what cases would warrant such a move.

The SIS had briefed him on the circumstances it would be needed and the current “involved” process to get a warrant and this was “a good thing”, the briefing outlined where security could be put at risk very quickly and those suspected could move faster than the warrant process.

On this basis Labour was willing to accept a hard look at the bill and what it proposed – For instance whether 48 hours was too long for unwarranted surveillance and then decide its position.

Earlier, following Question Time, Speaker David Carter granted an Urgent Debate on the Report of the Inspector-General – Intelligence and Security on the release of material to a political blogger.

Green co-leader Russel Norman said the report raised the “most serious issue” of the Prime Minister’s Office using security services to smear political opponents.

Dr Norman said it was an abuse of power and “an extremely dark day in our democracy”. He called for a Royal Commission of Inquiry and Prime Minister John Key to stand aside.

Deputy Prime Minister Bill English said he “utterly refuted” the claims of the Greens. They had called for the inquiry and were now disappointed it had not backed up their allegations.

The inquiry had opened up the operations of the SIS to unparalleled levels of scrutiny and it had shown no secret information was used to smear people. The report was “tough” on former SIS boss Warren Tucker’s actions but it had found he had not acted out of political bias.

Andrew Little in his first parliamentary speech as Labour Leader said the Govt had engaged in “filthy” politics and Bill English was overlooking the SIS had been told it had to clean up its act when dealing with political issues. The Government did not know the difference between politics and political opportunism.

Mr Little said National was desperately trying to protect its reputation which was now in tatters.

Following the debate the House went into Urgency for the first reading of the counter-terrorism bill by 96 to 25 with NZ First and the Greens opposed

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