Kiwis do care, prime minister

21:20, Dec 12 2013
Meridian John Key
NOT SO FAST: A new poll has rubbished the Prime Minister's assertions that Kiwis are unconcerned about GCSB reform.

More than three-quarters of New Zealanders have expressed concern about expanded spying laws in a new poll, scotching Prime Minister John Key's assertions that the public don't care.

The latest Fairfax Media-Ipsos poll shows a 75.3 per cent of respondents are on some level worried about plans to allow the Government Communications Security Bureau to monitor New Zealanders.

The contentious legislation is set to pass into law today, with a one-vote majority granted by former minister Peter Dunne.

For weeks, Mr Key has repeatedly defended the law changes, the subject of rallies across the country. He has also stated that New Zealanders cared more about proposed cuts to the snapper fishing quota than the new legislation.

The Government Communications Security Bureau and Related Legislation Amendment Bill and the companion Telecommunications (Interception Capability and Security) Bill were proposed in the wake of an illegal spying scandal. It emerged that the bureau had illegally snooped on internet entrepreneur Kim Dotcom and dozens of Kiwis.

The Government argued it was necessary to tighten up the legislation to allow the GCSB to carry out surveillance on behalf of domestic agencies.

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However, critics say the legislation goes far beyond clarifying the law and actually grants the spy agency new functions and much broader powers.

Almost 30 per cent of those polled said they were "very concerned" about a law change that would allow the GCSB to intercept New Zealanders' communications, not just foreign ones. Just under a quarter were not at all concerned.

However, just over half of respondents (53.6 per cent) said they trusted the Government to protect their right to privacy whilst maintaining national security. Almost 40 per cent disagreed.

Disquiet over the legislation is fuelled by spying revelations about mass surveillance by the United States National Security Agency. Mr Key yesterday said he would resign if the GCSB was found to engage in pervasive snooping.

He also came under pressure to explicitly write into law protections around the content of communications.

He argued this was already provided by the interaction of three clauses. He will spell this out in a speech to Parliament today which he says will give judges interpreting the law in future a clear steer on the Government's intentions.

Disagreement over the legislation spilled over into an extraordinary exchange during question time yesterday.

Mr Key accused Labour leader David Shearer of creeping up Beehive stairs to his office to keep secret a meeting about the law change.

"We sat down and had about a 30-minute discussion where Mr Shearer said ‘keep this confidential. If you come out and say we've done it that won't look good and I don't want you shouting it about the House'."

Mr Shearer does not deny the meeting, or trying to hush it up, but he insisted that it was not initiated by Mr Key.

"This is the Government's bill, the Government did not do anything to try and initiate a sit-down with other parties in order to get broader consensus across the House," he said.

The Dominion Post