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Review finds NZSIS use of CCTV surveillance 'lawful & responsible'

By Sara Barker, Mon 28 Jun 2021

The Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security Brendan Horsley is ‘satisfied’ that the use of CCTV surveillance by the New Zealand Security Intelligence Service (NZSIS) is not used for general surveillance.

The Office of the Inspector-General released a Review of NZSIS use of closed-circuit television (CCTV) today, which says that the NZSIS uses CCTV in a "targeted and specific way, not for general surveillance". Further, the NZSIS does not store or record CCTV footage.

The Inspector-General also says that the Services uses CCTV in a lawful, proper, and responsible way, but there are areas for improvement.

These areas include improving CCTV usage records, improving internal NZSIS CCTV usage policies, reviewing and revising the legal basis for accessing CCTV footage, and conducting a Privacy Impact Assessment.

The report also explores two key NZSIS standard operating procedures (SOPs): Surveillance Unit – [CCTV network provider] – SOP (referred to as the CCTV SOP) and Surveillance
Unit – Surveillance in a Public Place
 (referred to as the Surveillance SOP).

The Inspector-General notes that these SOPs provide a 'starting point' for respect for privacy, however, they do not define what privacy is.

According to the Inspector-General, the CCTV SOP determines that, by default, cameras installed in public places cover locations where there is no expectation of privacy.

"The CCTV SOP should also be corrected as it suggests that there can be no expectation of privacy when a camera is viewing the public domain. That is incorrect; as discussed above, the concept of a reasonable expectation of privacy requires a more nuanced consideration than whether the location is public or private," the report states.

While the Surveillance SOP does mention that there are different expectations of privacy levels in public places, a surveillance officer must also assess whether a person has a reasonable expectation of privacy. The Inspector-General states that an officer should consider the number of people impacted by surveillance, the nature of the impact and intrusion, the duration of the surveillance, and the environment in which it will be conducted.

NZSIS Director-General of Security, Rebecca Kitteridge, says NZSIS has accepted all of the recommendations ‘in principle’ and will work to put these into practice.

“My office will be paying continued attention to the Service’s use of CCTV. It can be a valuable tool for intelligence operations, as it has been for law enforcement for some time. But any misuse or over-use would be a significant, unreasonable and unnecessary erosion of privacy,” says the Inspector-General.

NZSIS recently removed the classified status from its CCTV usage after agreeing that the use of CCTV as an operational tool should not be classified.

"The consequent transparency can only benefit public debate on the use of such surveillance. In this case, the public can also be assured that the Service is using what could be a highly invasive technology in a limited and proper manner,” the Inspector-General says in the report.

Kitteridge points out that the Inspector-General understands that CCTV access is important for intelligence agencies and law enforcement.

“I think that the public would expect that the NZSIS can access tools such as CCTV when we are dealing with individuals of national security concern.

“The independent oversight of this review gives us important guidance to strengthen our current policies, as well as reassuring the public that the NZSIS uses CCTV in a lawful, responsible and proper manner.

The NZSIS, Inspector-General and the Privacy Commissioner all collaborated on the review of NZSIS’ access to CCTV. The Privacy Commissioner's Office and the Inspector-General will continue to work together in monitoring developments in the use of CCTV.

“I welcome the Inspector-General’s support for this, and the acknowledgement that we are using CCTV in a lawful way which also upholds our human rights and privacy obligations,” concludes Kitteridge. 

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