A rare public speech by the SIS Director, Rebecca Kitteridge to a privacy and identity conference. Some extracts:
What I hope to show is that in a liberal democracy like New Zealand, we need both individual privacy and national security. They complement one another, and a balance must be struck between them. In order to keep our country secure and protect our citizens, we have to be able to intercept private communications in some exceptional and legally authorised circumstances. But the needs of security agencies are not absolute. Any intrusion into privacy on the grounds of national security must occur only where it is necessary and proportionate, and must be subject to oversight.
Few would disagree with that.
And this is why I was attracted to the role of Director of Security. I am not in this job because I have a fascination for spying or because I relish the thought of intruding into people’s private affairs. Leading the Security Intelligence Service appealed to me because I feel strongly about the New Zealand way of life. I want to protect that way of life so we can continue to enjoy the things that are so wonderful about New Zealand, including the 3 integrity of our institutions, the privacy of our citizens, and our democratic rights and freedoms. And that motivation and commitment is shared by every person I have met in the NZSIS.
Kitteridge gets annoyed when she is called a spy boss, rather than the SIS boss because their motivation is security. They’re not MI6.
It is rather startling to think that when I was interviewed for the Director of Security role eighteen months ago, ISIL did not feature in my interview presentation. It is a big preoccupation for me now. ISIL recruits to its extremist cause through the use of slick propaganda, distributed via social media around the world. Its recruits may be young, vulnerable, or disaffected. They are excited by the extreme nature of what they see, and are drawn to something that they think has meaning.
The internet overcomes geographic distance and enables communication between these susceptible people and those encouraging them, radicalising them and directing them. The internet, and especially social media, means it is very easy for these individuals to connect up with others who share and strengthen their world view.
The threat to our security posed by foreign terrorist fighters is real, and it continues to develop rapidly. I know that my sister agencies overseas are dismayed at the prospect of radicalised and battle-hardened foreign fighters returning to their countries of origin – in some cases in their hundreds. Regardless of how the current situation in the Middle East is resolved, the issue of returning foreign fighters is going to challenge security services around the world for many years to come.
ISIL has changed things significantly.
Domestic extremists are also a real concern. ISIL explicitly urges individuals to conduct attacks using any weapon they have – a knife, a car – without talking to anybody about their plans. Attacks of this kind are extremely difficult to stop.
ISIL is very different to Al Qaeda who insisted on tight control and approval of any attacks. ISIL encourages anyone and everyone to attack.
We have seen the consequences of ISIL’s communications strategy and tactics being experienced in Paris, Belgium, Ottawa, Melbourne and Sydney, where lives have been taken or threatened. I don’t want to overstate the situation in New Zealand. As I have said before, there is a very small number of people in New Zealand, inspired by ISIL, who are talking about, advocating or planning to commit violent acts here or elsewhere. And it is the job of the Security Intelligence Service to understand what is going on so that those violent acts can be prevented.
Sadly we are not immune.
Making a decision to intercept a New Zealand citizen’s personal communications is only permissible under a Domestic Security Warrant, which often involves months of work and is not something we apply for lightly. To obtain a Warrant, the intelligence officers have to build and present a meticulously documented application, generally with attachments that are several inches thick, showing that the Warrant meets the criteria set out in our legislation, and is necessary and proportionate.
The Warrant application is reviewed by a senior manager and is scrutinised by the legal team. Then, as Director, I review it thoroughly. The Commissioner of Security Warrants then reviews it thoroughly. And then we take it to the Minister in Charge of the NZSIS. He asks questions and may require conditions to be added before it is signed off. Every Warrant must specify a period not exceeding 12 months for which the Warrant is valid. It can be renewed, but we must make the case again.
Not exactly mass surveillance is it.
We do not live in a surveillance state where everything you do online is recorded – at least not by the government! So – please enjoy the freedom that the internet gives you. You are free to click on whatever you want on your device, and you won’t pop up on our system. Typically, we get our leads through our interaction with the public and through information provided to us by other agencies.
Where information suggests that a person may be a threat to New Zealand’s domestic security, we will try to find out more about that person, and either determine that the person is not of interest, or build an intelligence case that may lead to a Warrant application. Our focus is on the small number of individuals who are actively interested in violent extremism, or causing some other harm to New Zealand’s security as defined in our legislation.
Around 50 a year.
I often think that if the public could see the people of the NZSIS doing their work, they would be delighted to see what hard-working, terrific people our intelligence officers are. I would love the Service to have a television show like Border Patrol.
Heh, Spy-Factor? Spy-Idol? Big Brother?
But where it is possible to talk about our work, as I am today, I think we should. With others in the New Zealand Intelligence Community, I am working on being more open and transparent.
Good. The intelligence agencies have some stuff they need to keep secret, but not everything. I recall when I worked in the Pms Office, and someone from the SIS would bring a draft press release over – on a password encrypted disk in a locked briefcase!
The Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security reviews every warrant after it is issued. In addition, the Inspector-General and her staff are free to come into our workplace, access our databases and document management systems, and look at anything and everything that we do. The Office of the Inspector-General has been greatly strengthened over the last couple of years. The Office has gone from one part-time retired Judge and a part-time secretary, to a full-time Inspector-General with a number of permanent full-time staff. That means that sunlight is beaming in across the intelligence agencies right now.
This has been I think the most important change. Also of significance is the SIS Director, GCSB Director and the Inspector-General are now all lawyers – gone are the days of the military old boys club.