Thousands join rally against GCSB

ROB KIDD AND FRANCESCA LEE
Last updated 15:12 27/07/2013
Protesters in Christchurch march against the GSCB spying bill.
John Kirk-Anderson
Protesters in Christchurch march against the GCSB spying bill.

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Thousands have marched in nationwide rallies against the GCSB spying bill with marches taking place in 11 cities.

Kim Dotcom was among those in Auckland's Aotea Square, while other marches took place in Wellington, Christchurch and other towns.

A crowd of about 500 marched in Wellington to Parliament where speakers took to the microphone to voice their outrage while numbers grew into the thousands.

The controversial Government Communications Security Bureau Amendment Bill and other related changes will expand the legal power of the GCSB to spy upon New Zealanders. 

Speaking in Seoul, Prime Minister John Key said the protests were part of a "healthy democracy" with people allowed to make their voices heard.

Key earlier said the law change is necessary and after weeks of controversy he has now  secured the numbers to pass it after agreeing to a series of changes which have won the support of  United Future leader Peter Dunne.

Hundreds have turned out in central Auckland to protest against the proposed changes.

Police had to cordon off parts of Queen St as people flooded in to listen to speakers discuss the GCSB bill.

Labour Party leader David Shearer, Green Party MPs and Dotcom stood side by side to voice their disapproval chanting "kill the bill"with the rest of the crowd.

Dotcom said the bill made New Zealand a puppet for the US government and called John Key "the biggest puppet of them all".

He said he would not give up his fight against the government.

"I'll never settle my case. I'll fight until we know every single detail," said Dotcom.

Shearer said if Labour were voted in at the next election there would be a thorough review of the spying agency and Mana Party member Minto went a step further, saying they would shut the GCSB down all together.

Lawyer Rodney Harrison QC said the most worrying thing about the legislation was that it opened the door for people's private information to be sent overseas.

He said the country had been "robbed of the opportunity to have a rational debate" on the matter and called for the Government to make it a conscience-vote issue.

The law changes were sparked by Dotcom and the raids on his Auckland mansion requested by US authorities who want to extradite the internet tycoon to face copyright charges.

'Orwellian Future'

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Hundreds of Cantabrians converged in Cathedral Square to join in nationwide protests against an Orwellian future.

The protest rally and march in Christchurch, which attracted at least three hundred people and gathered a few more on the way. 

David Fraser, who came from Waipara to take part in the protest, chose to use "nein", the German word for "no" on his placard to express his sentiment towards the bill.

"I wanted a short punchy message to make people realize this proposal by John Key is so similar to the East German Stasi [the secret police in communist East Germany during the Cold War] and before them the Nazi Gestapo where there was excessive state involvement in everybody’s privacy.

"Myself, my son, my wife, my father and grandfather all served the military to stand up for the New Zealand way of life; to stand against the likes of the Stasi and repressive regimes."

Northcote resident Bernadette Joyce carried an embroidered banner depicting Joan of Arc with the words "St Joan of Arc fought for her country."

"We don’t have to fight today," she said. "We just have to stand up and be counted. I think we are heading towards a malicious surveillance state. It happens little by little like the rights of the German people were eroded in Nazi Germany.|

Comparisons with George Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984 were rife, with many people holding placards saying "1984 was not supposed to be an instruction manual” and "This is 2013, not 1984."

Speakers at the rally included Green Party MP and spokesman for security and intelligence, Anti-Bases Campaign organiser Murray Horton, Labour MP Ruth Dyson, University of Canterbury law lecturer David Small, Waihopai Three barrister Moana Cole, and Internet Service Prider Plain Communications managing director Rob Hunt.

'Protect the interests of New Zealanders'

Speaking in Seoul, Key said, "I do think it's really important that people understand what's in the legislation because with the greatest of respect, you know, some people really say things about the law that is not true."

"If you look at what's been taking place under the legislation, it's actually a greater oversight and I think a strengthening of the previous legislation," Key said.

"In the end, do we need the GCSB and do we need GCSB legislation? In my view, the answer to that is yes.

"I accept there will always be some who feel a bit nervous about privacy and their own rights but I can give them the best assurance I can that we're very careful and cautious about what we do as a state, but in the end we do have to protect the interests of New Zealanders."

Kim Dotcom had a long term agenda, according to Key.

"I think he loves the limelight, but you've got to remember he's got a long term agenda here, and that is to try to convince people that he should be allowed to stay forever. But in the end he really needs to make that case to the United States of America."

'Absolute Indictment'

A review of the  GCSB  by senior public servant Rebecca Kitteridge found 88 instances where the spy agency appeared to have undertaken illegal surveillance on New Zealand citizens. Under the law changes, it would be legal for the GCSB to spy on citizens.

Key said at the time the report showed: "At a high level it finds long-standing, systemic problems with the GCSB's compliance systems and aspects of its organisation and culture. In addition, the Act governing the GCSB is not fit for purpose and probably never has been."

That prompted the bill which has mobilised the marchers today - fueled by the international revelations of extensive US spying under the PRISM network, which was leaked by Edward Snowden.

Earlier this week New Zealander of the year Dame Anne Salmond  denounced politicians and said they "need to grow a backbone" rather than considering passing a spy bill which she says has been "universally condemned" by the public.

Dame Anne said New Zealanders ought to feel "very concerned" about the bill.

"This agency... is surrounded by scandal. It has been accused of carrying out illegal surveillance on New Zealand citizens. This bill allows the GCSB to illegally spy on New Zealanders.

"This bill is in breach of the Bill of Rights... and despite this it has been dealt with under urgency.

"All of the authorities have looked at this carefully and have argued this bill be shelved."

Dame Anne said the bill would be an "absolute indictment" on the government if it was passed.

- Fairfax Media

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