The Security State: We should not be surprised, but we should be worried
On the very day that the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security released her report
into the actions of people the Prime Minister’s office in leaking classified Security Intelligence Service (NZSIS) documents to right-wing smearmonger Cameron Slater, the National government introduced a new law to dramatically increase their power. They are giving 3 days for submissions before ramming it through.
The IGIS report says that Prime Minister’s office disclosed information from the NZSIS for political purposes; that the head of the NZSIS failed to act in a politically neutral manner, and that the agency mishandled Official information act requests from media.
In response to the report, “The Key administration has plumbed new depths of arrogance and contempt for the notion of politicians being accountable for their actions,” says John Armstrong at the NZ Herald. The Greens and Labour Party are both calling for Key to resign. No Right Turn says, “the use of spies against domestic political opponents is well beyond democratic norms. It is Nixon territory.”
The Prime Minister has tried to exonerate himself from the actions of his staff. The Inspector-General, however, has no power to inquire into the propriety of any action taken by the Minister. (p12) John Key’s actions were not investigated in this report. The actions of his staff are enough of an indictment of him: either he knew about this smear plot, in which case he is directly culpable, or he didn’t know, in which case he is not only culpable, but incompetent. The latter simply isn’t plausible, since the success of the plot essentially won the Key another term in power.
It is also revealing to note that members of the Prime Minister’s staff further tried to thwart the investigation by claiming that they were beyond the jurisdiction of the inquiry. As importantly, Jason Ede, the Prime Minister’s black operations co-ordinator in this plot, deleted emails directly relating to this matter prior to the investigation – and regularly used personal phones and email accounts to avoid public scrutiny.
In my experience when security legislation is introduced, there is often an objection based on the notion that a future government could abuse it. Former Prime Minister Robert Muldoon is frequently invoked as that example. It is clear, now, that we have such a government and the idea that more power should be handed to the NZSIS under any circumstances should strike any thinking person as dangerous, if not outright absurd.
The new NZSIS powers
The Countering Terrorist Fighters Legislation Bill was introduced yesterday, and submissions for it close tomorrow (Thursday). This should give a very clear picture of what the rulers of the country think about public input.
It is important to appreciate that this bill will give substantial new powers to the NZSIS to conduct video surveillance, and surveillance without a warrant. They will be able to break into our homes and install video cameras, without a warrant.
This is the most incredibly invasive surveillance imaginable.
And unlike the police, the NZSIS don’t even have a law enforcement role – they’re only job is collecting information. The police already have the powers to do video surveillance without a warrant (for up to 48 hours) but they have to demonstrate that there is some crime being about to be committed or being committed. Even this basic threshold isn’t the case for the NZSIS whose only obligation is to ‘detect activities prejudicial to security.’
The explanatory notes of the bill suggest that powers to conduct warrantless covert video surveillance are required by the NZSIS to stop people leaving the country. Such reasoning beggars belief: you don’t need to install a video camera in someone’s house in order to determine if they are leaving the country. The only way anyone is realistically going to leave New Zealand to join a foreign terrorist organisation is on board a commercial airline, in plain sight.
The new law also allows the Minister of Internal Affairs to cancel a passport for three years, instead of the one-year already allowed. There is simply no justification for this: the Minister has to review the matter every year anyway under the new law, allowing the person to make submissions on their status, so the idea that it is somehow some efficiency gain is ridiculous. Equally well, the burden of proof has become the responsibility of the individual against the state to prove they are no longer a threat – in the current climate of paranoid fearmongering, anyone designated a threat to the state is not likely to have that removed no matter what they do.
The whole basis of this law – they say – to stop foreign terrorist fighters by revoking their passport – is based on the Minister believes on reasonable grounds that a person is engaging in activity that is already illegal under New Zealand law – violations of the Terrorism Suppression Act, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction etc. If there is such evidence, then the person can simply be arrested and charged.
This law is a way to criminalise Muslims, to enhance state surveillance power and to whip up fear of mythical ‘terrorists’ in our midst. It will do nothing to enhance the security of ordinary people, but it will definitely contribute to the government’s agenda of supporting US wars of conquest and frightening the domestic population and eroding our rights.