Conspiracy theorists had more than a glimmer of truth

TRACY WATKINS
Last updated 05:00 10/04/2013
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Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they're not out to get you.

OPINION: In 2003 when the GCSB bill was introduced, deputy prime minister Michael Cullen rejected the "myth" that the shadowy agency with links to international intelligence agencies was snooping on New Zealanders.

Time to dig out the tinfoil hats, because it turns out the conspiracy theorists aren't so mad. The GCSB spied on Kiwis, we now know, under the guise of acting for other domestic agencies.

Former GCSB boss Sir Bruce Ferguson confirms all that needed to happen was the SIS would get a warrant, signed off by the prime minister of the day, allowing it to exercise its assistance-getting powers. Then it went to the GCSB for assistance.

"No-one questioned it at the time. I certainly didn't question it," Sir Bruce says.

"I obviously read the act and said, ‘that's obvious'. I got a warrant that had gone through various stages, the inspector-general had looked at it - by the time it was presented to me I had a list of people saying, ‘this is fine, we are allowed to do this'."

How does this square with the intent of the legislation when it was originally passed in 2003? It doesn't, as Prime Minister John Key acknowledged yesterday.

It was a work-around, a loophole. It enabled the GCSB to exercise its not inconsiderable gadgetry and resources against New Zealand citizens in a way that the law appears not to have allowed for.

Whether the law should have so expressly ruled out the GCSB from taking "any action for the purpose of intercepting the communications of a person . . . who is a New Zealand citizen or permanent resident" is another question. It was a response to the sensitivities of the day and in a post-September 11 world is probably well past its use-by date.

But that was the law our intelligence agencies flouted for years. The Government's response now is apparently to change the law so the GCSB can legally do what it may have been doing illegally for years.

That hardly seems designed to bolster public confidence.

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