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Kiwis will need to decide whether security measure trump personal privacy ahead of proposed changes to intelligence ...

Kiwis will need to decide whether security measure trump personal privacy ahead of proposed changes to intelligence laws. Americans have had to put up with increased security, particularly at the nation's airports, since the attacks of September 2001.

OPINION: Kiwis have stark choices to make when it comes to boosting national security.

"National Intelligence agencies were set up after World War II to protect the homeland from foreign actors. But increasingly, they are surveiling home-grown threats."  So said Naveed Jamali, a former US-Russia double agent and U.S. military intelligence officer.  I talked to Jamali this week following news Prime Minister John Key is leading changes to New Zealand's intelligence laws.

Key's proposals are bringing the tension between privacy and security into sharp relief for many Kiwis. It's a tension Americans have been grappling with for years.

The proposed law changes – explained as attempts to increase transparency and oversight as well as increasing cooperation between spy agencies – are similar to laws passed in the US after 9/11.

"Intelligence agencies are very protective of their sources and their methods" Jamali says. "And for that reason, they did not historically, or naturally, cooperate." 

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One big terrorist event on home soil can change that thinking. As Americans have learned. "The USA has 17 different intelligence agencies that now report to one place: the Director of National Intelligence" Jamali explains "The goal of intelligence operations is to detect and neutralise a threat to the homeland". And cooperation is central to achieving that goal. On that basis, Key's proposals seem to make sense.

To contrast the level of security structures Americans live under take the comparison between boarding a domestic flight at Tauranga airport, and boarding a domestic flight at John F. Kennedy airport in New York. I have done both, many times.

In Tauranga, it's a fairly straightforward exercise: get your boarding pass, show it to an Air New Zealand staffer, walk onto the tarmac, board the plane.

At JFK, it goes something like this: get your boarding pass, show your boarding pass and ID to airline staff to enter security line. You must then show your boarding pass and ID again to Transportation Security Administration officials, then take off your shoes, belt, and jacket. Empty your pockets. Place your hand luggage on the conveyor for x-ray inspection. Undergo body scanning. Collect your personal effects and your bag and go to the gate.  Show your boarding pass at the gate. Board the plane.

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Kiwis deal with comparatively few security intrusions because the threat level in New Zealand is relatively low.  There hasn't been a homeland terrorist incident since the Rainbow Warrior bombing in 1985. Here in the US, we just marked the two-month anniversary of the worst mass shooting in modern American history.  The massacre at Orlando's Pulse Nightclub. By a homegrown, radicalised jihadi.

The currency of intelligence is data. "Intelligence officers analyse data for indications and warnings" Jamali says. "Like an analyst watching the stock market, intelligence officers look at patterns in data in order to predict what might happen."

Without access, there's no data to analyse.  Without data to analyse, locating and neutralising the threat becomes much more difficult. Particularly in an era where terrorism networks are spanning continents, time zones, and ISP addresses.

New Zealand's proposed law change is intended to aid that data collection. Kiwis will have to decide whether they come out on the side of privacy, or security.

 - Sunday Star Times


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