Since 11 September 2001, New Zealand spy agencies have been subject to a number of law changes increasing their powers. Whilst many of the changes were necessary to keep pace with changing needs in terms of intelligence gathering and surveillance capacities, some of the changes have undermined New Zealand’s reputation as a country where privacy is protected by law.
Both National and Labour-led Governments have introduced laws that have enabled the said broadening of the powers of the Government Communications Security Bureau (G.C.S.B.) and Security Intelligence Service (S.I.S.). The latest changes follow significant changes in 2002 (Terrorism Suppression Act, 2002) which was introduced by Labour. More recently in 2013 and 2014, Prime Minister John Key has introduced two significant tranches of legislation that expanded the powers of the two intelligence agencies.
Not surprisingly the legislation has its opponents – but also its defenders. The latest changes are a result of the report written by Dame Patsy Reddy and Sir Michael Cullen. The report itself stems from a series of blunders including spying on Kim Dotcom and malpractice within both agencies. It’s key points include:
- A triple lock warrant requiring three separate authorizations to be granted approval
- Our spy laws should e replaced with a single piece of legislation – including laws passed by this Government, now thought to have made the implementation more complex than it already was
- Bringing the G.C.S.B. further into the core of public services
- Improving co-operation between the two agencies
And then there are the party politics. Labour Leader Andrew Little says that there should be nine Members of Parliament on the Intelligence Select Committee (I.S.C.). He says this allows for New Zealand First and the Green Party. National says that a nine member I.S.C. would become too unwieldy and not work as well as the public expect. This is causing the Greens some angst as co-leader Metiria Turei believes New Zealand is being led towards American style fear mongering about threats that do not exist.
Whilst there is certainly truth that the U.S. Government appears beholden to interests that require a national state of fear to exist in order to implement their agenda, this ignores several credible security threats to New Zealand. Because of these threats, there is a case for improving the workability of New Zealand’s intelligence agencies – with appropriate checks, as covered in my proposals.
My proposals are pretty simple, yet cut to the core
- Law changes pertaining to legislation controlling how the G.C.S.B. and S.I.S. operate need a special majority when going before the Select Committee to be recommended to the House of Representatives – say a 2/3 or 3/4 majority of Select Committee members
- Limitations on the length of time that the new warrants can be valid for
- Introduce or reinforce restrictions on requests from non-New Zealand agencies for agencies to conduct surveillance of New Zealanders – so a request for example from Australia that our agencies carry out surveillance on a particular person/organization or group of people needs to meet certain criteria before it can proceed
- Legal and if necessary physical protection for whistle blowers if not already provided