Interception of Communications

Introduction

Sometimes the NZSIS can achieve its objectives only by using covert methods. This has been recognised by Parliament and there are legal processes in place which allow controlled interception of private communications.

The Service must obtain a warrant to intercept or seize communications, documents or items whenever it would otherwise be illegal to do so. There are no exceptions.

The Director of Security can apply to the Minister in Charge for a warrant under certain carefully specified conditions. The Director is required to give evidence on oath that:

  • the information being sought is necessary to detect activities prejudicial to security or to gather foreign intelligence essential to security
  • the value of the information is such as to justify the particular interception or seizure
  • the information being sought is not likely to be obtained by any other means, and
  • the information is not legally privileged in court proceedings.

Domestic warrants

When an interception warrant relates to a New Zealand citizen or permanent resident, the Minister in Charge of the Service and also the Commissioner of Security Warrants (who must be a retired High Court Judge) must both agree to the operation. If they are both satisfied, they jointly issue the warrant.

The Commissioner of Security Warrants is currently Sir Bruce Robertson.

Foreign warrants

If an interception warrant relates to obtaining information about foreign capabilities, intentions or activities, the Minister in Charge is required to consult with the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade before making a decision on whether to issue the warrant.

Warrant operations follow detailed procedures. These are designed to ensure that all legal requirements are complied with.

Information gathered under warrants

All information gathered under a warrant must be destroyed (or, in the case of mail, returned) unless it relates directly or indirectly to the detection of activities prejudicial to security or comprises foreign intelligence information essential to security.

Annual review of warrants

The Minister reviews all warrants issued to the Service each year and the Service's Annual Report to Parliament includes information about domestic warrants that were in force over that period.

Review of warrant procedures

The detail of all operations the Service conducts under warrant is available to the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security. The Inspector-General (an independent oversight authority) is required by law to review the Service's procedures to make sure that everything connected with warranted operations is handled legally and properly.