Nicky Hager has filed further proceedings in the High Court against the New Zealand Police.
On 29 February 2016, the Police released further documents to Mr Hager under a Privacy Act request that he had made back in 2014. The newly released documents reveal that the Police obtained Mr Hager’s travel information from airlines. The Police wanted to know who Mr Hager was travelling with, where he was travelling, when he was travelling, who was funding the travel, and whether Mr Hager was funding anyone else’s travel. The purpose was to try to identify Mr Hager’s confidential informants. All of this was done without Mr Hager’s knowledge.
To get this information, the Police applied for and received production orders using applications essentially the same as the one used to obtain a warrant to raid Mr Hager’s home. That warrant has been found by the Court to have been “fundamentally unlawful”. That was because the Police failed to inform the judge issuing the warrant of the potential impact of the warrant on journalistic source protection.
Mr Hager is asking the Court to hear this new claim together with the second stage of the proceedings already before the Court. Those proceedings are still to resolve issues relating to the Police accessing his bank information and a determination of damages for the Police’s unlawful raid on his house.
Mr Hager’s barrister, Felix Geiringer, said, “What the Police have done with Mr Hager’s travel information has all of the same problems that existed with the raid on his home. The Police were seeking to bypass Mr Hager’s rights to protect his sources by obtaining Mr Hager’s private information from third parties. But they did not tell the people issuing the production orders that that was what they were doing.”
“What the Police were trying to do here could do enormous damage to the ability of the
New Zealand public to receive information. Journalists need to be able to travel to meet sources, they need to talk to some sources on the phone, to exchange emails with them. If the Police can do what they were trying to do here then it will be very difficult for journalists in this country to promise to keep sources confidential. The public’s source of information on such things as public corruption could dry up” said Mr Geiringer.
The Police only released the documents after receiving a preliminary view from the Privacy Commissioner on a complaint made by Mr Hager. The Police have also admitted that there are yet further documents that have not been disclosed.
Mr Geiringer added, “In some ways what the Police did in this case was worse than the raid on Mr Hager’s home. They tried to obtain the information in secret so that Mr Hager couldn’t claim privilege over it. Shortly after the raid on his home, Mr Hager’s lawyers sent a letter to the Police. In that letter they told the Police the efforts to obtain Mr Hager’s information were unlawful and that Mr Hager’s information held by third parties would also be privileged. But, the Police did not tell that to the people issuing the travel data production orders. Then the Police unlawfully hid the facts of these searches from Mr Hager for well over a year.”