27 November 2014

The Countering Terrorist Fighters Legislation Bill

In the one day allowed for submissions on this Bill, I managed to submit one on time! It's not very well researched, but the best I could do. So here are the edited highlights of my submission:

The Bill allows for the cancellation of passports on grounds of national security. This includes the provision that the Minister ‘may recall, cancel, or retain possession of a New Zealand passport for a person who is outside New Zealand’. The cancellation of passports is only permitted where, on reasonable grounds, it is believed that the person may be intending to enagage in or facilitate a terrorist act, proliferation of WMDs, or other unlawful acts likely to cause serious damage to New Zealand’s interests, and that the cancellation is necessary and sufficient for the purpose.
It is conceivable that a person could leave New Zealand on an NZ passport for, say, the UK on apparently legitimate grounds, and then seek to undertake further travel to a different location where they might be intending to join a group regarded as ‘terrorist.’
The cancellation of a passport is, in any circumstances, a serious step that denies a person certain fundamental human rights, and hence should only be undertaken for very good reason and on sound information. To cancel a person’s passport while overseas could effectively render a person stateless and unable even to return to their home country. The danger is that this provision could become, in effect, a form of banishment by executive decree.
As the explanatory note informs us that the general criminal law and terrorism offences address the most serious forms of offending relating to FTFs, it would be preferable to find ways to bring suspects back to New Zealand so that they can be put on trial under due process of law. I cannot see how cancellation of the passport aids in bringing the offender to justice.
I recommend that a relevant condition for such a decision may be that the person whose passport is to be cancelled while outside New Zealand was believed, on reasonable grounds, to be planning to travel to a particular location with the intention of joining a group engaged in terrorist acts. Such a decision should not be permitted merely for the purpose of preventing the person from returning to New Zealand. Repatriation of the suspect, potentially to face charges, should be the primary aim of such provisions.

The Bill would amend the NZSIS Act allowing for the exercise of powers that would be available under intelligence warrants or visual surveillance warrants without first obtaining such a warrant for up to 48 hours. While there are conditions, limitations and accountabilities surrounding the use of this measure in the Bill, this is a step towards greater executive powers, without judicial oversight, even if limited in time.
There is insufficient evidence provided in the explanatory notes to justify this increase in surveillance powers. It is hard to understand why such new powers are needed when the Police are able already to respond to threats from armed individuals in the normal course of their duties under present laws.
I recommend that the new section providing for 48-hour warrantless surveillance orders be deleted. It may of course be reintroduced to the House at a later stage, if the government is able to satisfy the public and members of parliament that the 48-hour warrantless surveillance is really necessary.

Further comments:
Like many other New Zealanders, I am dismayed at the rushed process of this Bill. Allowing people only one day to make a submission is not acceptable for such significant powers in a democratic legislature. While I agree that the New Zealand Parliament needs to review and amend the law prudently in order to take account of evolving threats, I am not convinced that the present threat-level justifies the drastically reduced time-frame. It is conceivable that an event similar to the Boston Marathon bombing or the attack at the parliament buildings in Ottawa could happen in New Zealand; and it is believable that some New Zealanders are seeking to join foreign terrorist groups.
There may therefore be some merit in refining or extending some powers. But the potential threats do not warrant the curtailed timeframe for this Bill, especially as the present law provides for sanctions and powers to deal with criminals and terrorists. Even though the present Bill does have a sunset clause, for 2018, by that time the powers may have become normalised within the intelligence services, and a future government will want to retain them in spite of ongoing public concerns. More careful consideration at the present stage is the better approach.
It is important for the credibility of such a law that the New Zealand public is, on balance, satisfied that human rights and security concerns are addressed properly by our parliament.


Post a Comment

<< Home