The Review of Intelligence and Security by Sir Michael Cullen and Dame Patsy Reddy is a strange beast. The two eminent reviewers see themselves as proposing a sensible and sober streamlining of our two intelligence services, the Security Intelligence Service (SIS) and the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB). John Key sees the review as having a very small impact on a very small subset of the very unobtrusive and nothing to be concerned about work programme of the GCSB. Nicky Hager and the Greens explain that it is one of the most significant expansions of spying powers in recent history and erodes our privacy rights. A strange beast indeed; all things to all people.
The review proposes:
- removing the current restriction on the GCSB spying on New Zealanders within our country; where the GCSB considers a New Zealander’s actions to threaten national security, they can self-generate a warrant to spy on that person;
- they encourage greater government oversight, though really what the difference is between a five people nodding in support of secret decisions in a secret room to seven people nodding in support of secret decisions in a secret room, is beyond me;
- warrants won’t need to be signed off by a judge, but just by the Attorney General or the acting minister;
- changing the focus of our spy agencies from protecting our economic and international well-being to protecting our national security;
- allowing access to other agencies’ databases.
Cullen and Reddy said that if it had been in their scope, they would even have recommended the GCSB and SIS are joined.
If these recommendations are adopted carte blanche, then our Parliament will have removed what remains of the sole, shaky protection of New Zealanders’ privacy within the Five Eyes Network. After all, what constitutes ‘national security’?
- When SAFE takes footage of illegal and abusive animal handling practices on dairy farms and then releases that footage and builds an international campaign to shame the industry, surely that could be considered to threaten our national economic security, given 20 percent of our exports are in dairy?
- When protesters in Waitangi throw a dildo at Stephen Joyce, technically an assault, surely the potential they could have thrown a brick constitutes a terrorist threat to our leaders that could be considered a threat to national security?
- When John Key is about to attend international trade negotiations and is revealed in national and international media to have sexually harassed a woman by pulling her ponytail, surely the threat to the reputation of our highest office from the victim’s revelations are a matter of national security?
- When an investigative reporter discovers a sustained effort by the National Party to pervert our democratic process through the use of slander, libel, rumour and blackmail by a hit team of bloggers and PR people, surely the impact on the trust and confidence of voters in our government is a matter of national security?
National security is such a fluid term. So useful in support of power and control, such a strong rebuttal to public oversight and accountability; and opponents to our national security are so easy to find. All of my Pirirākau ancestors were a threat to national security a mere 135 years ago. Rua Kenana’s settlement at Maungapohatu was a threat to national security only 98 years ago. Te Puea and Waikato’s non-violent resistance to conscription was a threat to national security only a century ago. Our great uncles in the 1951 Waterfront Dispute were a threat to national security. Our aunties and uncles who joined the protests against the Spingbok Tour were a threat to national security only 35 years ago. Those who protested against the arrival of American nuclear warships were a threat to national security in the same era. Those who occupied Paikaitore and other whenua were a threat to national security only 20 years ago.
Furthermore, we are handing over an immense amount of our private information if we open other agencies’ databases to the GCSB and SIS. John Key tried to play it down, talking about publicly available databases like births, deaths and marriages. That sounds alright; I was born in 1975, I’m married, and I’ve yet to die. But what about your tax information? Or any support you have had from Work and Income? Or any run-in with the Police, like a speeding ticket? Or any trusts you are part of? Or your medical records (I hope you never had a STD)?
The issue in erosion of privacy is not that they are coming for you, but that you will think twice about your civic involvement, about protesting against a government that might just take offense. You will think twice about supporting movements for change like Greenpeace that are a little edgy and ride the fine line between legal advocacy and non-violent protest. Because you know everything about you is easily and legally discoverable by the GCSB and SIS, you will moderate your behaviour to be a good citizen without really thinking about it, keep your head down, and say nothing.
So speak up to your members of parliament and to Ministers. Ask them to reject the recommendations of this review and even suggest they strengthen our privacy laws to protect us more. If we don’t speak soon, we won’t speak at all.