Act imposes restrictions on remote searching of computer records

Amendment to Search and Surveillance Act introduced during third reading of bill

An amendment contained in a supplementary order paper (SOP) tabled by Justice Minister Judith Collins during the third-reading debate on the Search and Surveillance Bill last week effectively imposes strict conditions on the use of remote online search of computer records.

The clause, now part of the Search and Surveillance Act, defines “remote access search” as “a search of a thing such as an internet data storage facility that does not have a physical address that a person can enter and search.” This appears to limit online search to such environments, excluding covert remote searches of computers that do have a definite location. This safeguard, lawyers Michael Bott and Rick Shera told Computerworld, was inadequately specified in earlier versions of the Bill.

The legislation was passed late on Thursday last week by a narrow margin of 61 votes to 57.

Collins’s SOP also advances the commencement of parts of the Act to April 18. This is the date when the Video Camera Surveillance (Temporary Measures) Act 2011, legalising certain kinds of video surveillance, expires.

Many of the measures earmarked to come into force in April relate to video surveillance, practised controversially in investigations into alleged arms training for insurrection in the Ureweras in 2007. As a result of doubts about the legality of these measures, many of the Urewera defendants had their charges dropped.

However, some of the fast-tracked measures refer to other miscellaneous areas such as Fisheries Act amendments and questions of legal privilege. The former section “clarifies the power of fisheries officers to conduct visual surveillance”, says Rachael Bowie, spokesperson for Collins. This too is needed because of the expiry of the temporary measure.

“In addition, ancillary clauses that apply privileges, immunities, reporting requirements and offences relating to the use of surveillance will also commence on this day. These clauses will ensure that surveillance powers are subject to adequate safeguards. There are also transitional provisions that come into force on 18 April,” Bowie says.

The remainder of the Bill is scheduled to come into force when an Order in Council is issued or, at the latest on April 1, 2014.

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