This is a pretty interesting time for New Zealand to be dramatically changing our surveillance laws. The Key Government has chosen (albeit somewhat forced to after the Kim Dotcom saga) to make significant changes to the GCSB and TICS bills at the same time as serious global conversations continue about government mass surveillance.
Thanks to the Snowden leaks this year, the world has learned about secret surveillance programmes operating out of the US and Europe. The fallout from these leaks has been huge. It’s been described as ‘the most significant leak in US history’ and the ‘most catastrophic loss to British intelligence ever’. The revelations have shocked the world and have sparked huge debates about the role of government and the balance between national security and personal privacy.
One of the internet surveillance programmes exposed through these leaks is Prism, a top-secret system used by the US National Security Agency (NSA) to collect emails, documents, photos and other material from the public. NZ investigative journalist Nicky Hager has described Prism as “a level of intrusion never seen before” – billions of people’s communications being captured and monitored.
So where does New Zealand fit in?
It’s been revealed that some of the information collected through Prism has been given to countries within the Five Eyes intelligence network, which New Zealand is part of, including the Waihopai spy base. What the Key Government won’t confirm, is whether this co-operation with the US means that New Zealanders’ information has been obtained by Prism and shared amongst the spy agencies. However, Edward Snowden has revealed that ECHELON and Five Eyes were part of the collecting of the huge communications grab. We seem to be an absolute part of the massive global communications surveillance.
Former Green MP Keith Locke has helpfully outlined the unanswered questions about where New Zealand and the GCSB fit within the NSA’s global surveillance programme. My colleague Russel Norman has put some of these questions directly to Prime Minister John Key in the House, but with little luck.
What we do know is that New Zealand’s intelligence agencies – the GCSB and the SIS – operate in a cloud of secrecy. There is very limited oversight of our intelligence services and the way they operate, and scarce accountability. And with the passing of the GCSB bill and the soon-to-be-passed TICS bill, the powers of these agencies are being dramatically widened.
All of this matters because it goes to the heart of the fundamental rights and freedoms of New Zealanders. It’s about democracy and democratic rights of freedom of expression and the right to live free from state surveillance. And that’s why the Green Party so vehemently opposes the TICS bill, and the GCSB bill that came before it.