GCSB views

The Press editorial:

Contrary to the assertions of opposition parties, the changes Prime Minister John Key has made to the Government Communications Security Bureau bill are not merely cosmetic.

Among other things, the changes will require the to make an annual report on the number of warrants and access authorisations it gets and pro-actively tell the inspector-general of intelligence, whose post has itself been beefed up, whenever it has acquired a warrant to spy on a New Zealand citizen or resident.

In addition, while rejecting the opposition call for an inquiry now into the GCSB, the bill will require a review of its operations, and those of the Security Intelligence Service, the domestic spy agency, a couple of years from now and thereafter every five to seven years.

The GCSB will also have to make an annual report on the number of times it has been called on to help the police, the SIS and other agencies use its specialised surveillance equipment.

If any expansion is required of the agencies that can call on the assistance of the GCSB, new legislation will be needed rather than, as had been proposed, merely executive action. The Prime Minister has also promised to make it clear that the collection of metadata – information about the time and location of a call rather than its content – will be treated as communication and require a search warrant.

All these changes make substantial modifications to the bill as it was first presented to Parliament. While they have not been enough to persuade opposition parties to support the bill, they are sufficient to satisfy Peter Dunne, formerly a strong critic of the bill, which means it will pass.

I agree that the changes are not inconsequential. I note that Labour seem unable to articulate what actual changes to the bill would make it acceptable to them. I think they just hope this will be finally be the silver bullet that gets them out of the poll doldrums. Bit sadly for them, people are more interested in policies on jobs, hospitals and schools than this.

Pete George points out the recent protest action against the bill was organised by Mana’s Martyn Bradbury and Greens’ Max Coyle. I think it is safe to conclude both fall into the camp of would never ever support something done by this Government. The meeting they organised was interesting though:

Labour MP David Cunliffe sat in the front row last night. His party leader, David Shearer, watched unnoticed from the rear of the hall with Labour’s finance spokesman, David Parker.

However the Herald disagrees with and wants more changes. However they also say the changes are substantial:

The Government Communications Security Bureau and Related Legislation Amendment Bill will be an improved piece of legislation when it is amended by Parliament. The changes go much further than the “cosmetic” tag attached by the Greens. Two stand out. The first dictates that the country’s foreign intelligence agency will be the subject of an independent review in 2015 and an automatic review every five to seven years after that. A five-year review echoes the situation in Australia. It also goes quite some way towards satisfying the call by Labour and the Greens for an independent inquiry into the country’s security services, even if they wanted this to precede the passage of the legislation.

The second important alteration states that if a government wants to expand the domestic agencies which the GCSB will be able to help beyond the police, the Security Intelligence Service and the Defence Force, it will have to get the support of Parliament for another amendment bill, rather than Cabinet simply ticking it off via regulation. That negates the possibility of the likes of Customs, the Immigration Department or Inland Revenue using the GCSB’s sophisticated cybersecurity equipment without a considered debate on the ramifications. 

I think that last change was very important.

According to the Prime Minister, the bill represents “a balancing act between national security and doing our best to keep New Zealanders safe, and the privacy of New Zealanders”. Considerable reservations voiced earlier this month by the Privacy Commissioner, the Human Rights Commissioner and the Law Society confirmed the first draft fell far short of this objective. The changes in the bill as reported back yesterday and those achieved by Mr Dunne improve that situation somewhat. It is a real shame, however, that they do not go further. The public deserves stronger reassurance.

In another story the Herald notes a further change:

The activities that the GCSB undertake in assisting the police will be subject to review by the Independent Police Complaints Authority under changes to the GCSB bill, which was reported back to Parliament this afternoon by the Intelligence and Security Committee.

It is one of the few changes to the bill in the committee’s report that has not been previously announced.

A further useful addition.

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