The Dim-Post

April 13, 2013

The coastguard? redux

Filed under: intelligence,Politics — danylmc @ 6:49 am

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.

15 Comments »

  1. This is again embarrassing for both of us Danyl, but I agree with every word.

    Comment by Matthew Hooton — April 13, 2013 @ 7:25 am

  2. I don’t get why so many National die-hards aren’t out in droves demanding an inquiry. Surely they’re aware that a hypothetical left-wing government in the not-too-distant future could use a relaxed GCSB statutory framework to rationalise domestic wiretaps and dig up all kinds of dirt on Fed Farmers, the big engineering and contracting firms, and Weta.

    Comment by Phil Stevens — April 13, 2013 @ 7:53 am

  3. A left wing govt did in the not too distant past.

    It’s a bit tricky becsuse to answer the question may require information that by its very nature will not be revealed.

    Doesn’t the leader of the opposition get briefed?

    Comment by NeilM — April 13, 2013 @ 8:13 am

  4. A left wing govt did in the not too distant past.

    The last time New Zealand had a “left wing” government is in the far distant past. Could you try writing a comment without trying to deflect from the substantive issues by saying “Labour’s just as bad!” … try just one.

    Comment by Flashing Light — April 13, 2013 @ 8:31 am

  5. This is embarrassing Danyl but I agree with every word matthew hooten wrote

    Comment by CnrJoe — April 13, 2013 @ 8:47 am

  6. Flashing Light, here’s the last line of this post:

    “…and the opposition should oppose any law change authorising such activity.”

    It sort of is relevant to know how Labour acted when in power. I think that says more about how the will act if and when they’re in power again, than what the say now while in opposition.

    If you want some sort if balance to Nationsl it probably would pay to have a realistic look at just what that balance might turn out to be.

    Comment by NeilM — April 13, 2013 @ 9:30 am

  7. The first thing a judge would do if the question of the legality of spying on NZers came to court, would be to look at the first paragraphs of the Act 2003. The Act is very explicit that NZers are not for spying on. The speeches at the time from both sides of the House were explicit that NZers were not for spying.
    Mr Key repeating the spin that the Act is ambiguous is very very naughty. And he would be very very embarrassed should the question ever be challenged in Court.

    Comment by xianmac — April 13, 2013 @ 10:23 am

  8. The other thing that needs to be part of the debate, (alongside who has been targeted, why, and what sort of oversight we are going to have) is what are the actual differences in capabilities between SIS/Police and GCSB.

    Obviously GCSB has better gear and do ‘more’. But it’s likely that the ‘more’ is qualitatively different.

    This is very similar to the debate in the US under Bush over so called ‘illegal wiretapping’, the Total Information Awareness program, and the NSA. If the difference in capability is like the difference between spear fishing and drift net fishing, we need to know that’s what we are letting the SIS/Police do.

    Much of what the GCSB does, I assume, isn’t targeted at individuals and finding out what they say; it’s targeted at what people are saying and finding out who they are. There’s a world of difference between those two missions in terms of civil liberties. The first is we think you are suspect, so we are going to have a wee peep, the second is we know there are suspects, so we are going to watch everyone.

    How are the capabilities for the second type of mission going to be quarantined? Or are they the capabilities GCSB provides? And how can be assured that the data won’t be sitting in places where foreign services can see it?

    Comment by Pascal's bookie — April 13, 2013 @ 10:31 am

  9. But the only person we know they’ve spied on is Kim Dotcom

    The only person we know GCSB has spied on. But we also know they were assisting SIS, and we know that the latter habitually spies on people like Keith Locke, people who are totally harmless and not even a remote “threat” to New Zealand. Which kindof confirms your point.

    Comment by Idiot/Savant (@norightturnnz) — April 13, 2013 @ 11:12 am

  10. I don’t get why so many National die-hards aren’t out in droves demanding an inquiry.

    Because unquestioning deference to authority beats everything else, including freedom. It’s sad to behold, but at least it’s a useful reminder of where so many on the Right really stand.

    Comment by sammy 2.0 — April 13, 2013 @ 11:12 am

  11. Which is why we need a real inquiry into all this.

    We won’t get one. Even if we were to have an inquiry, it would be headed by a hand-picked retired High Court judge or senior public servant, someone sufficiently safe and unlikely to ever demand or create any kind of transparency or accountability.

    Comment by George D — April 13, 2013 @ 11:38 am

  12. Let’s let it ride, then when the Labour Party take over they can do a real number on the right.

    Comment by Northshoreguynz — April 13, 2013 @ 12:00 pm

  13. Much of what the GCSB does, I assume, isn’t targeted at individuals and finding out what they say; it’s targeted at what people are saying and finding out who they are.

    It’s a bit of both, PB.

    Separation the areas of signals intelligence into electronic and communications intelligence, the ‘dredge’ analogy is appropriate to ELINT activity (answering the where, how and potentially inferring the why questions) whereas the ‘spear fishing’ approach is more relevant to COMINT (answering the what and why questions).

    Comment by Gregor W — April 13, 2013 @ 2:24 pm

  14. Forgot to add, COMINT generally gives you the ‘who’ as well, although that is also garnered via ELINT.

    Comment by Gregor W — April 13, 2013 @ 2:25 pm

  15. The reason people on “the right” don’t demand an inquiry is because it’d embarrassing to “the right” Government. If Labour were in power, the people on “the left” wouldn’t be clambering for an inquiry either. This is simple politics people!

    Comment by ruminatornz — April 14, 2013 @ 5:30 pm


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