NZ spy agencies need urgent review

LISTENING IN: The government spy base in the Waihopai Valley in Marlborough.
LISTENING IN: The government spy base in the Waihopai Valley in Marlborough.

The National Government, backed by independent MP Peter Dunne, has sold out the privacy of New Zealanders.

Independent MP Peter Dunne has agreed to support the National Government's bill to give the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) unjustified expanded powers.

Mr Dunne was unashamed about his decision to sell out, telling media; "when you've got . . . a willing buyer and a willing seller you can do a deal". Without his vote National did not have the numbers to pass the bill.

Mr Dunne resigned as a minister in John Key's Government, rather than release his private emails to an inquiry which was investigating how a report was leaked. He thought it was an important point of principle.

It's hard to see how he can reconcile this position with his crucial backing of a bill that will allow the GCSB invasive powers to spy on New Zealanders.

The GCSB was set up as a foreign intelligence agency. It will now be able to spy on New Zealanders, something the previous law it operated under clearly ruled out.

Given an international climate where serious concerns are being raised almost daily about State intrusions into citizens' privacy, the Green Party do not think this is the time to be rolling out law changes that enhance rather than restrict such power.

Furthermore, given New Zealand's involvement in the Five Eyes spy network, largely via the GCSB, a greater quantity and quality of New Zealanders' information will be able to be exchanged with foreign partners with ease.

The bill allows the GCSB to assist domestic agencies. That will allow the GCSB authority to act as it pleases anonymously and for the secrecy shrouding its actions to be extended to the agencies it is assisting.

Peter Dunne thinks a review in 2015 is an adequate amendment to the bill.

Before any changes are made to the laws governing our spies, a Commission of Inquiry needs to be held into the GCSB and Security Intelligence Service. The GCSB has clearly been going beyond its mandate and has broken the law in assisting other agencies. A comprehensive review would examine that behaviour and identify other problems.

A Law Commission inquiry would then be needed to develop the correct legal framework to ensure the agencies operate within the law and that security and privacy needs are balanced.

If the public is to have any confidence in our security and intelligence agencies, a thorough and independent review is the first and most vital step.

This bill undermines New Zealanders' right to privacy and fundamental human rights. This bill could have a chilling effect on freedom of expression if people feel they live in a state of constant surveillance.

It should not be passed and Peter Dunne shouldn't vote for it.

* People are invited to show their support or opposition to the bill from 2pm tomorrow [July 28] at a special gathering outside the gates of the GCSB facility on Waihopai Valley Rd.

Steffan Browning is a marlborough based list MP for the Green Party

The Marlborough Express