Review of the Search and Surveillance Act 2012

The Government is reviewing the Search and Surveillance Act 2012(external link) (the Act). The Act controls how Police and other law enforcement agencies can search people or property and carry out surveillance.

What does the Act cover?

The Act contains powers that enable government agencies to effectively monitor and enforce the law, and provides detailed rules as to how they should be exercised consistent with human rights values.

There are over 80 different pieces of legislation(external link) that rely on powers under the Act for enforcement. Officials who exercise these powers (enforcement officers) include Police officers, animal welfare inspectors, fisheries inspectors, forestry officers, immigration officers, Inland Revenue officers, product safety officers and wildlife rangers.

The Act does not apply to the activities of the Government Communications Security Bureau or the New Zealand Security Intelligence Service. Those agencies operate under the Intelligence and Security Act 2017 which is also being reviewed(external link).

Why are we reviewing the Act?

There are two drivers for the review.

First, the review is part of the Government’s response to the Royal Commission of Inquiry into the terrorist attack on the Christchurch masjidain on 15 March 2019 (the Royal Commission). The Royal Commission recommended a review of all legislation relevant to the counter-terrorism effort (recommendation 18). The Act includes powers relevant to counter-terrorism.

You can find the report of the Royal Commission here(external link).

Second, the Law Commission and the Ministry of Justice made recommendations to improve the Act in the 2016/17 review.  The Government has not yet formally considered the recommendations. They will be considered as part of this review.

The full report and details about the 2016/17 review(external link) can be found on the Law Commission's website.

What will the review involve?

The review will take a phased approach. The first phase of engagement for the review will provide an opportunity for organisations to share their views and lived experiences in a meaningful way. It will involve working with Māori Treaty partners and with ethnic, faith-based, youth, rainbow, and other interested communities. This is taking place between April and June 2022.

It will consider points such as:

  • How do we ensure search and surveillance law enforcement activities are consistent with human rights?
  • How do we ensure rights, including those in Te Tiriti o Waitangi, are protected?
  • What safeguards are appropriate for search and surveillance activities? 
  • What principles, if any, should guide search and surveillance powers?
  • Do you think Policy Statements addressing how agencies must conduct certain search and surveillance activities would be helpful?
  • How can we ensure the powers in the Act aren’t used disproportionately against different groups of people?
  • As technology has developed, legislation and regulation has been slow to respond to the new ways in which people communicate and interact. How do we best make rules about surveillance considering ever-changing technology?
  • What safeguards (if any) are appropriate for covert operations?
  • Are there any other aspects of search and surveillance that your organisation and the communities you are involved with are concerned about?
  • How can we support communities you are part of to engage meaningfully with the future phase of public engagement?
  • What topics do you think communities you are part of would be most interested in providing feedback on for future engagement?
  • How can we continue to keep in touch with communities you are part of about search and surveillance issues after the review is over?

The next phase of the review will involve wider public engagement on any proposed reforms, drawing on what we have learned in the first phase and is likely to commence in late 2022.

How can I find out more?

You can find out more about our plans to review the Act and the drivers behind it by reading the policy papers in the document below:

Please send any queries about the review to