Police will have power to secretly search homes

The Daily Telegraph | March 05, 2009
By Simon Benson

POLICE will be allowed to secretly search suspects' homes and remotely access their home computers for a month under the most draconian covert operation laws the state has seen.

And no one will know, because of a provision allowing investigators to keep those being spied on in the dark for up to three years.

The laws, which give police greater power to deal with criminals than they have to use against suspected terrorists, were introduced into Parliament without warning by the Government yesterday as part of a crackdown on criminal gangs. However, they drew immediate criticism from civil libertarians, who claimed it was an invasion of personal freedom and from the NSW Opposition, who claimed they wouldn't work.

Premier Nathan Rees said NSW would be the first jurisdiction in Australia to adopt the covert search warrants, modelled on Commonwealth anti-terrorism legislation.

"If you are a serious criminal in NSW you should not sleep easy," Mr Rees said. "These laws will enable our police force to inspect your home without you knowing."

The warrants will be issued through the Supreme Court and limited to investigations of suspected serious offences punishable by at least seven years jail. These include the manufacture of drugs, computer crimes, the sale of firearms, homicide and kidnapping. 

NSW Police will be able to apply to the Supreme Court to delay notification of their activities for 18 months and up to three years in some exceptional circumstances. Civil libertarians said the new laws were not only the next step in the creation of a police state but could also foster corruption in the force.

"These powers are more powerful than those available to the federal police when dealing with terrorism suspects," NSW Council for Civil Liberties president Cameron Murphy said. "These are exactly the types of laws that led to a huge police corruption problem in NSW in the past. It is going to lead to more police corruption. Why would the NSW Police need more power in dealing with ordinary criminals than the federal police does in dealing with terrorists?"

Opposition police spokesman Mike Gallacher said the announcement would simply tell organised criminals they need to be smarter.

"They'll do so in such a way that houses are not penetrated, that the houses themselves have video surveillance . . . or are not left vacant at all at any stage," he said.