Sometimes we do need a 'surveillance state'

I am not really a fan of Big Brother, but there are times when a "surveillance state" has its benefits.

I am not really a fan of Big Brother, but there are times when a "surveillance state" has its benefits.

This week, New Zealand is debating the issue of covert police video surveillance, and whether it should be allowed on private property.

A major court trial effectively crumbled, because alleged Maori "terrorists" were subjected to covert video surveillance, which the Supreme Court declared unlawful, making such evidence invalid.

Now, the government is rushing through legislation under urgency to save other major police trials from stumbling on the same technicality.

The police rightly say that such a move simply brings the law up to date, taking changes in technology into account, and will allow judges and juries to see the best evidence available.

I was surprised and shocked that the alleged terrorists were able to get away on such a technicality. It seems bizarre that the law is not up with the play.

Cameras are everywhere these days. God knows how many can be found in our malls and stores. Where would our shopkeepers be without them?

The UK, for example, is known as a "surveillance state", with over 4 million CCTVs — more than China. While we might question such numbers on civil liberty grounds, they are doing a marvellous job at tracking down the London rioters.

Some years back, I recall driving into Auckland one night with some friends. I was at the wheel and there was a minor accident, with the other vehicle at fault. However, the other car's driver claimed that my drunken friend had been driving and because I hadn't adjusted the seating to fit my frame, the police believed him.

The case came to court and dragged on for two years until the courts finally accepted that I was the driver and not my friend. If only a CCTV camera had been able to show me driving, then everyone would have been saved a lot of trouble.

So it seems that sometimes we do need a surveillance state, to give the police all of the information that they need for their work.