Armstrong’s piece today is about the politics of Key’s plan to allow the GCSB to spy on New Zealand citizens. There’s nothing substantive in the column, but it did get me thinking that the public can’t really take a position on whether or not this is a good idea unless we know the nature of the illegal spying operations the GCSB were involved in.
Were they spying on suspected members of terrorist or organised criminal organisations? Or were they spying on environmentalists, academics or opponents of politically powerful organisations? The security services would like us to think they spend their time chasing ‘the bad guys’ who pose a threat to New Zealand security. But the only person we know they’ve spied on is Kim Dotcom, who may or may not be guilty of various crimes involving copyright infringement and money-laundering, but is obviously not an existential threat to our way of life.
The problem is, if the security services are spying on terrorists/organised criminals who engage in counter-surveillance activities which justify the involvement of the GCSB, they probably can’t tell us because that would compromise any ongoing operations.
Which is why we need a real inquiry into all this. If the SIS are engaged in legitimate operations that need to stay secret and need the resources of the GCSB then fine, maybe a law-change is justified, so long as there is a massive improvement in the quality of the oversight. But if they’ve just been spying on a bunch of hippies trying to save snails, TPP opponents, anti-mining organisations, corporate whistle-blowers and Jane Kelsey then those people need to be notified that they’ve been subject to illegal intelligence operations and the opposition should oppose any law change authorising such activity.