Police teams set up to identify terrorism threats and risks to national security are spying on protest and community groups, including Greenpeace, animal rights and climate change campaigners, and Iraq war protesters.
Police officers from the Special Investigation Group (SIG) have carried out surveillance and used a paid informer to gather information not just about planned protests but the personal lives and sexual relationships of group members.
The police informer, Christchurch man Rob Gilchrist, whose activities are revealed in today's Sunday Star-Times, was a key member of various community groups during the past decade.
He helped arrange protests and was close friends with leading campaigners, and advocated radical and illegal activities by the groups.
Last week he said he was embarrassed and sorry for what he did. The people he spied on were not security threats. "I know they are good people trying to make a better world."
Wellington human rights lawyer Michael Bott said the surveillance of peaceful groups was repugnant and "has shades of Big Brother and Soviet Russia". Surveillance of the personal lives of members of peaceful groups meant the basic right to privacy was being eroded. "It just appears fundamentally abusive and wrong."
Melbourne newspaper The Age reported a similar case three months ago, where an undercover police officer had infiltrated community groups. He worked in Animal Liberation Victoria, taking part in a midnight raid on a battery hen farm, and helped organise anti-Iraq war demonstrations.
Mark Eden, of the Wellington Animal Rights Network, said it was outrageous to consider that the network's campaign against battery hen farming was terrorism and that the group was somehow like al Qaeda.
"We have gone in and filmed the farms and discovered the cruelty. But instead of doing the democratic thing and stopping it, which is what the public want, they have responded by sending in the secret police.
That's the most shocking thing about it."