Spy watchdog's 'significant concern' over nine months it took spy agency to front up

Inspector General Cheryl Gwyn has criticised the Security Intelligence Service for its handling of questions over ...
DAVID WHITE/FAIRFAX NZ

Inspector General Cheryl Gwyn has criticised the Security Intelligence Service for its handling of questions over whether it was acting lawfully or not.

Attorney-General Chris Finlayson disagrees with the country's spy watchdog that it's a "significant concern" the Security Intelligence Service took nine months to answer questions about its lawfulness.

In June 2015 the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security, Cheryl Gwyn, raised serious concerns with the SIS director about whether SIS activity was lawful and, if not, how that was to be remedied.

But it took until March this year - nine months later - for her to receive a response.

Attorney-General Chris Finlayson says a delay by the SIS in reporting back to the Inspector-General was largely his fault.
GRANT MATTHEW/FAIRFAX NZ

Attorney-General Chris Finlayson says a delay by the SIS in reporting back to the Inspector-General was largely his fault.

Finlayson, the minister responsible for the SIS and Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB), said the delay was largely a result of his "instruction" and "given the importance of the issues" he doesn't think it was a delay.

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"I think there's a difference between a delay and a lapse of time."

In her office's annual report Gwyn said "regardless of the ultimate conclusions on the lawfulness of the activity in question, the time taken to engage with and resolve this significant issue is in itself a matter of concern".

But Finlayson said if the SIS is going to "change long-standing practise" he wants to be "absolutely certain things are done properly and done right".

"We're looking very clearly at the issue, the lawfulness has always been accepted over a lengthy period of time. An issue's been raised and we're working through that now and I'm very satisfied," he said.

Gwyn noted in her report that she "appreciated the underlying issue is complex and substantial work is still under way on the outstanding aspects of the questions I raised".

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But she went on to say the SIS "must be able to deal with such issues in a more timely way".

"I will report fully on this issue as soon as possible," she wrote.

Finlayson said the Solicitor-General is looking at the issue at the moment and then he will address it.

Also in the report Gwyn revealed her office had reviewed 15 interception warrants and 30 access authorisations issued under the GCSB Act.

Thirty-nine domestic intelligence and 18 foreign intelligence warrants were issued under the SIS Act.

Of those reviews, one was an emergency authorisation for domestic warrantless surveillance - a power that had never been used up until this point.

 - Stuff

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