Wednesday, August 21, 2013

A Sad Day for New Zealand

Today, if Prime Minister John Key gets his way, the GCSB Amendment Bill and Telecommunications (Interception Capability and Security) Bill, will pass their final reading in the New Zealand Parliament and become law.  For those overseas folk who have not been following the progress of these prospective laws, they have been introduced by the Prime Minister (who is also the cabinet minister in charge of the security services) because it was discovered that our Government Communications Security Bureau (NZ's equivalent of America's NSA and Britain GCHQ), had been illegally spying on New Zealand citizens and residents.

GCSB is part of the "Five Eyes" close community of anglophone government security officials that includes USA, Britain, Canada and Australia.  We know from the revelations of Edward Snowden and Bradley Manning that the United States and its intelligence allies have been circumventing their own laws by spying on their citizens without warrants or with unconstitutionally broad warrants from patsy judges.  We know, for example, that these agencies have used each other to spy on each other's citizens, thereby avoiding legal restrictions on domestic surveillance.  In the case of New Zealand, it was revealed that the GCSB was illegally spying on Kim Dotcom, a New Zealand resident, at the behest of the US authorities - as well as many other New Zealanders.  The response of our Prime Minister and Government was not to prosecute those security agency officials involved but rather to change the law to allow GCSB to spy on New Zealanders. The only oversight will be that of the Prime Minister and an official he appoints.

There is something very worrying about a government changing the law to make legal that which is has been caught doing illegally.  It completely subverts the principles of the Rule of Law and makes a mockery of the law itself.  Why would anyone have respect for the law if the government itself does not?

The Prime Minister has justified the change on two main grounds, firstly because of some vague threat from New Zealanders being trained by Al Qaeda, and secondly because he says he will apply it judiciously.  In regards to the first justification, I simply do not believe there is a credible and immediate threat to New Zealand from Al Qaeda. I am sure John Key has been told there is by US intelligence agencies but they would tell him that, wouldn't they?  In regards to the second justification, why would we trust his discretion in a matter where it is clear he knew about the law-breaking in the first place (at least in the case of Kim Dotcom)?  In any event, such grounds do not begin to justify the sort of wholesale invasion of innocent citizens' privacy we have already seen in the US and now increasingly in this country.

We live in a Westminister democracy.  The Prime Minister is accountable to Parliament, not the other way around.  These bills will pass today with a majority of one vote unless someone in the governing National Party or its allied MPs John Banks and Peter Dunne choose to vote against it.  I think it is a forlorn hope that one of them has the principles and gumption to cross the floor on the final vote.  It will be a sad day for New Zealand if none of them does.

1 comment:

Jigsaw said...

You make a huge assumption when you say that New Zealand has no threat from terrorists. This reminds me of when Helen Clark said-immediately before September 11th- that New Zealand was in a benign international environment. You may be right but you could also be terribly wrong.
The other fact that you fail to mention is that the 2003 bill was thought to make it legal for the GCSB to spy on New Zealanders-given various safeguards and the 2003 bill has been found to be'not fit for purpose'. The new bill while far from perfect is at least a huge improvement on the 2003 bill. Yesterday in parliament it became obvious as David Shearer scored a spectacular own goal that in fact the Labour Party HAD been consulted-Shearer had just failed to share it with his colleagues and certainly hadn't shared it with the Greens. He demonstrated just how inept he really is!