Intelligence and Security Bill - The Devil is in the Detail

Tim Owen
GCSB,  NZ spies, John Ke

The proposed New Zealand Security and intelligence Bill has just finished its Select Committee phase and now moves to its’ Second Reading in the House.  The purported purpose of the Bill is to streamline the activities of four agencies under one piece of legislation - The Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB), The New Zealand Security Intelligence Service (NZSIS) and their oversight bodies, the Inspector General of Intelligence and Security and the Intelligence and Security Committee.  The aim, apparently, is to make them more efficient and effective in our ever-changing world.  

Speaking in August of last year, then Prime Minister, John Key stated “… it is vital our agencies operate under legislation which enables them to be effective in an increasingly complex security environment, where we are confronted by growing numbers of cyber-threats and the rise of terrorist groups such as ISIL.”  Of course, it’s all about ISIL and the boogie monster terrorists and ‘keeping New Zealanders safe’ but looking at one of the key proposed changes in the legislation gives pause for thought.  Currently these agencies do not have the right to spy on New Zealand citizens or residents (not that that was stopping them, of course).  In the proposed legislation this will change and these agency will be legally entitled to intercept New Zealanders’ communications.

The language in the proposed Bill regarding its’ purpose and the purpose of the agencies is sufficiently broad and vague that it would not be difficult to imagine members of these security agencies choosing to monitor various groups and individuals who they, or their political masters consider to be ‘threats’ to the established order, whether or not those groups or individuals were intending to commit any acts of violence or sabotage.  For example, their purpose is to contribute to ‘the economic well being of New Zealand’  (section 11c). That leaves room for far reaching interpretation.  If, for example, the politicians and power elite of the day believed wholeheartedly in multi-lateral trade deals which undermine New Zealand sovereignty, or were committed to the universal basic wage and other socialist measures, or were convinced that not taking measures to combat climate change would spell doom for the country, might they not feel justified in spying on individuals and groups who were challenging these notions and building support for alternative ideas?  These agencies have significant budgets relative to the size of our country and are being granted extra funding and capital expenditure amounts over the coming years.  It’s hard to believe that all this is necessary solely to combat the risk of foreign terrorist activity on our shores.  Watch out for increased surveillance of alternative media and alternative political narratives and opinions, couple with both covert and overt censorship of the same.