Paula Bennett's suggestion some Kiwis have "fewer human rights than others" has been described by her boss as "not an accurate reflection" of National's hardline new gangs policy.
Ms Bennett made the comment on Sunday while she and Prime Minister Bill English announced an $82 million plan to fight methamphetamine. It includes new powers for police to enact searches without a warrant.
"It probably does breach the rights of some of those criminals but they have to have had a serious violent offense behind them already and a firearm charge and on the basis of that we are going ahead with it," Ms Bennett said.
Asked if she believed criminals had human rights, Ms Bennett said "some have fewer human rights than others when they are creating a string of victims behind them".
She later said on Twitter "scum gangs that peddle drugs don't deserve protection".
The comments sparked outrage, with gangs expert and author of Patched Jarrod Gilbert telling her the "majority of people who peddle drugs aren't in gangs. Why are those scumbags rights more valued than those in a gangs?"
Human Rights Commissioner David Rutherford quoted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which says "all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights", saying human rights are "what we fought in WW2 to preserve".
Others said it was "police state" tactics, suggested police see many young Maori as gang associates by default, and questioned who would have the powers to decide which members of the public were gangs and which weren't.
Appearing on The AM Show on Monday morning, Mr English said Ms Bennett's words were "not the right way to describe the actual proposal".
"It's not really a matter of human rights - it's a matter of the legal rights around the search. Those rights would be scrutinised by the court."
He called it a "very good policy… in the context of gang activity related to serious crime and methamphetamine", and said the "word game around human rights and legal rights" wasn't as important as the goal of the policy - to wipe out meth and gang violence.
"The actual proposal is about these firearms protection orders. They're designed to deal with a situation which really does concern police, where identified gang premises and gang people have accumulated significant amounts of unlicensed and illegal firearms.
"Police want the ability to get in there and search without a warrant. A select committee of Parliament proposed that a number of months ago with agreement from a number of the parties, so it's not a new idea.
"But the way it was described by Ms Bennett is not an accurate reflection of what it is - which is essentially being able to make a search under quite particular circumstances without a warrant."
Outgoing Associate Minister of Health Peter Dunne, who has led drug reform from inside Parliament over the past few years, said on Twitter "drug reform may have taken a step backwards today", but declined to comment further.