The Dim-Post

August 18, 2013

The grand inquisitor

Filed under: psuedopolitics — danylmc @ 8:49 am

One of the odd aspects of contemporary New Zealand politics is that opposition policies are subject to extraordinary scrutiny – what are the details? how much will it cost? can we see the figures? where will that money come from? – while the actual government can toss up schemes like Paula Bennett’s plan to subject about a tenth of the adult population to a paedophile test and instantly sack anyone who fails it.

Teachers, doctors and any other government employees who fail Social Development Minister Paula Bennett’s tough new child-abuse screening test will be instantly sacked.

The new child-protection laws will trump existing employment legislation, removing the need for bosses to go through a fair process of verbal and written warnings to dump anyone suspected of sexually preying on children.

Screening of all government employees working with children is one of the main planks of Bennett’s incoming child protection regime, unveiled last week.

All staff working with children in schools, hospitals, government agencies and organisations that get government funding must submit to security screening every three years. It is estimated to affect 376,000 people.

What test will the government use? ‘Yet to be revealed.’ What are the false negative and false positive rates? (ie, how many actual paedophiles will it fail to detect and how many non-paedophiles will it falsely identify? That’d be useful to know, right? If you’re screening 376,000 people using a test with a very high confidence interval – say, 99.9% – that means you’re incorrectly identifying 376 people. How long will the screening test take? A day per person? That works out at 376,000 days of police time. Sounds expensive. How invasive will it be? What happens if you refuse to take it? Will the government sack, say, a paediatrician who refuses to take the test because they consider it a breach of their privacy?

 

August 16, 2013

All glory to the hypnotoad

Filed under: media,Politics — danylmc @ 11:00 am

Russell Brown attributes John Key’s triumph debating the GCSB bill on Campbell Live as ‘a study in media training’. The sentiment seems to be widespread among the left, including with John Campbell.

I thought the PM addressed Campbell’s questions very directly. His success wasn’t about any kind of media training Jedi mind trick, so much as it was about the PM enjoying a huge strategic advantage over John Campbell. Campbell Live had done clips on the GCSB bill all week. Key’s team knew exactly what their objections to it were. All they had to do was have a couple of people from their comms team watch each episode, break down each issue and craft a rebuttal.

Unfortunately (for the PM) they don’t seem to have run their rebuttal past anyone with legal knowledge of the bill, which means that while the PM was wiping the floor with Campbell he was also incorrect/lying on a pivotal point. Via the Herald:

In the course of the interview [Key] said incorrectly that under the bill, the GCSB would not be allowed to look at the content of communications when conducting their cyber-security functions.

In fact, there is nothing that prevents it from doing so. But what Mr Key is now saying is that in exercising his power to impose any conditions he wants on a warrant, he will use his discretion to set the default position not looking at content in the cyber-security function.

Which is just stupid. The PM can’t grant himself the power to secretly spy on people and simply promise not to use it, if only because he isn’t going to be Prime Minister in perpetuity. Key keeps warning us that Labour and the Greens are ‘the devil-beast’. Well if Winston Peters walks in front of a bus the devil-beast will probably in government in about fourteen months, and able to intercept the emails of New Zealanders with impunity.

The magic of jury duty

Filed under: crime — danylmc @ 8:23 am

I’d never been called for jury duty until this week. I always found it frustrating when friends and co-workers got selected and ducked out of it, getting their employers to write letters insisting they were invaluable and couldn’t be spared. Didn’t they want to do their civic duty? And, more excitingly, didn’t they want to sit in on an actual criminal trial? See what really went on? Glean that insight into society and the justice system?

Now I get it. Like most of the people who rolled up to Wellington District Court on Monday morning I didn’t actually do any civic duty or glean any insights. What most of us got to do was sit in a room on the third floor of the building, waiting. For hours. We got to do the same thing on Wednesday. Thursday was actually pretty quick. We only waited around for about an hour. Fortunately I wasn’t part of the cohort that got balloted on Wednesday and waited around all day for a trial that got cancelled.

A couple of weeks ago I thought the guy who a judge found in contempt for refusing to serve on a jury sounded like a douche-bag. Now I kinda see his point. The process does seem designed to inconvenience you as much as possible. Will you be called to appear at court the next day? They don’t tell you until after six o’clock when its too late to reschedule anything. If you appear and aren’t balloted can you just leave and go on with your day? Well, on Thursday we did, but on Wednesday they kept us at the court for an extra two hours for no apparent reason. Could I pick up my daughter from creche if I was selected for a jury? What time would the court adjourn for the day? Should my wife cancel all her late meetings so she could do it? No way to know. When would I know? No way to know that, either. That’s the magic of jury duty!

August 14, 2013

Something

Filed under: Politics — danylmc @ 2:22 pm

Via AAP:

Political parties and community groups have tentatively welcomed the government’s proposed child abuse laws but concerns about slapping restraining orders on suspected abusers are preventing unequivocal support from many.

The proposed laws, announced on Tuesday, include new responsibilities on government agencies, standard screening of the government children’s workforce and powers that will allow courts to define the guardianship rights of birth parents.

The legislation will also mean Child Harm Prevention Orders will be imposed on any person who has been convicted of, or suspected on the “balance of probabilities,” to have abused a child.

Those orders, which last for up to 10 years, can restrict a person from living, working or associating with children, going to parks and schools and changing their name.

Social Development Minister Paula Bennett says the wide-ranging laws are necessary to protect the country’s most vulnerable children from abuse that “just has to stop”.

“More than 50 children have died in the last five years because of extreme abuse – we know many of their names,” she said when announcing the proposed legislation.

There’s a very famous scene in Yes Prime Minister in which Sir Humphrey asks Bernard questions on a controversial policy and gets him to change his support for the policy based on the nature of the questions. You could play a similar game with Bennett’s policy. ‘Do you think we need to protect vulnerable children from their abusers? Yes!’ ‘Do you think faceless bureaucrats should have the power to break up families purely on the basis of suspicion? No!’

Like the story says, the harm prevention orders are imposed on the ‘balance of probabilities’ and are predicted to effect about 80 people a year, which implies that about 41 actual child abusers will be prevented from any contact with children for a ten year period, and about 39 people who aren’t child abusers will suffer the same fate. That seems like a really terrible outcome, especially since the actual child abusers aren’t likely to respect the restriction orders, because they’re, y’know, child abusers.

We shouldn’t get too worried though – it’s a Paula Bennett policy. As usual the details are vague and she’ll probably spend a few days talking about this on TV – ‘We HAVE to do something for the children!’ – and then we’ll hear no more about it until she re-announces the same policy in twelve to eighteen months time. (‘We HAVE to do something!’)

August 13, 2013

Shut the door. Have a seat.

Filed under: Politics — danylmc @ 8:49 am

The ‘Are we 100% Pure’ debate rages on, with the PM insisting that the slogan is just a marketing campaign and is therefore ‘aspirational’, and Labour deciding, weirdly, that we just need to abandon it because that’s easier than not turning all our rivers into toxic waste dumps.

As with most of our national crisis, this can best be resolved by asking ‘What would Don Draper do?’ And I think he’d say something along the lines of ‘Slogans are aspirational. They don’t need to be true, but you need to aspire to make them true.’

Disneyland calls itself ‘The Happiest Place on Earth’. They don’t mean that literally, but they try and make their customers happy. They don’t claim they’re the happiest place on earth and then pump tear gas into their air conditioning, which is kind of what New Zealand does when it calls itself 100% Pure and then floods most of its waterways with cow shit and approves open cast mines in its conservation sites.

August 2, 2013

PR dilemma of the day

Filed under: intelligence,Politics — danylmc @ 8:23 am

You’re the Prime Minister of a small, remote South Pacific nation, and yesterday you went on breakfast morning radio and claimed that Al Qaeda were active in your country, thus justifying your new law reforming the state security services. You were roundly mocked on the TV news that night by both political editors. Do you:

  1. Console yourself with the fact that you’re like, twenty points ahead of your opponents in the polls and move on, or
  2. Reveal more details about this supposed security threat to the media, probably to TVNZ to teach Paddy Gower a lesson, thus opening yourself up to accusations that you’re disclosing secrets about ongoing operations for no reason other than personal embarrassment?

August 1, 2013

I am never right about these things

Filed under: Politics — danylmc @ 8:10 am

The Andrea Vance phone records scandal rolls on. Yesterday the PM tabled an email in Parliament appearing to support his ‘cock-up by low level contractor’ version of events. It shows the Henry inquiry administrator requesting the phone records for ‘any contact’ between a number of Ministers and Andrea Vance’s phone number, the Parliamentary Services contractor replying with Vance’s phone records attached, and the inquiry administrator’s reply insisting that they didn’t request that information and they’re not interested in looking at it.

But there are still a few problems. In no particular order:

  • Last week the Speaker’s office claimed that the Henry inquiry requested Vance’s phone records but Parliamentary Services refused to supply them. Now we’re told that Parliamentary Services supplied them, but the Henry inquiry didn’t request them. That seems like a weird and significant thing to get wrong.
  • Peter Dunne’s name isn’t on the list of Ministers whose records were requested in the email tabled by the Prime Minister
  • Peter Dunne alleges that Henry told him they could match his phone records against Andrea Vance’s
  • There’s also the email Patrick Gower obtained from the PMs CoS Wayne Eagleson. I don’t understand the significance of this email – it is clearly about Ministers and their staff, not journalists. But other people seem to think it’s important.

Here’s my working theory: there must be other requests for records from the Henry inquiry to Parliamentary Services that the PM has not yet released. At the very least they requested Peter Dunne’s phone and email records. Let’s say they also requested Andrea Vance’s phone records and the head of Parliamentary Services knocked them back and rapped their knuckles. Then, a few days later a ‘low level contractor’ supplies them with Vance’s phone records anyway, in a reply to an email that didn’t actually request them. So the inquiry sends a response elaborating that they didn’t ask for that data, because they were reprimanded about requesting it a few days earlier.

So Henry now has Vance’s phone records, and he mentions this to Peter Dunne. But in a semantic sense he doesn’t use Vance’s phone records because he doesn’t need to: he has Dunne’s phone records – and email logs – documenting Dunne’s communications with Vance.

July 31, 2013

It’s the worst abuse of government power imaginable – the kind that affects the press gallery.

Filed under: media,Politics — danylmc @ 9:20 am

The gallery are in high dudgeon mode:

Speaker David Carter’s admission that Parliament supplied a ministerial inquiry with Fairfax Media journalist Andrea Vance’s phone records is a bombshell.

It comes on the back of Parliament’s admission that Vance’s movements were also tracked as part of the Government’s efforts to find the “mole” who leaked her a report on the Government Communications Security Bureau.

Fair enough, I guess. Personally I’m struck by the very high incidence of illegal activity, lies and cover-ups that seem to have occurred around the work the security services and the government have carried out regarding Andrea Vance and Kim Dotcom, and the fact that we only know about all this incompetence and law-breaking because both Vance and Dotcom are highly privileged individuals. Dotcom is a lawyered up multi-millionaire, Vance is a respected senior reporter for a multinational media company. So if their rights are violated they get to find out about it – but that’s not the case for the overwhelming majority of people who interact with these agencies. It’d be nice to know if this behavior is out of the ordinary, or if these agencies break the law and lie about it on a routine basis.

July 29, 2013

Buzz buzz

Filed under: Politics — danylmc @ 8:29 am

We’ve been here before. Labour’s new housing policy has ‘closed the circuit’. Via RNZ:

Labour’s political opponents say its promise to crack down on overseas investors buying houses in New Zealand is desperate, xenophobic and racist.

Labour said on Sunday that if elected, it would try to drive down house prices by barring non-residents from buying existing houses, flats or apartments.

Vacant land could be purchased only if buyers committed to building a house on it.

Australians would be exempt due to a reciprocal deal.

But Housing Minister Nick Smith said there is no evidence to suggest that foreign ownership has any effect at all on house prices and the policy is a desperate ploy to win votes.

ACT said the policy is racist, anti-investment and anti-Chinese. It says high house prices are caused by lack of land supply – not foreigners buying property.

The strategy here is that when critics of the policy go on the news and call it racist, voters who support the policy feel that they’re being called racist – which they aren’t, some of their best friends etc – so they feel solidarity with the politician and party advocating the policy. Rumour has it the policy was incredibly popular with soft-National voters in Labour’s focus groups. It’s also Green and NZFirst policy, so Labour can’t lose any votes to their competitors over it. (Being in charge of Labour’s policy development – Go to Green Party website. Copy. Paste – seems like nice work if you can get it.)

Is it racist? I don’t know. I’d like to see some actual data on whether this is really a problem instead of anecdotes about there being loads of Asians at Auckland property auctions. I do know that any time a political party in New Zealand wants to boost its position in the polls it’s always by legislating against someone. In the National Party under Brash it was Maori, under Key its beneficiaries, and now Shearer’s ‘cracking down’ on foreign property investors – a less vulnerable group than solo mums, sure – but its still a depressing trend.

July 28, 2013

Will the GCSB spy on Rachel Smalley?

Filed under: intelligence — danylmc @ 9:06 am

That was the question asked by Rachel Smalley on The Nation, who pointed out to civil libertarians arguing against the new GCSB legislation that she hadn’t done anything wrong, so the GCSB weren’t likely to spy on her.  But today in the SST we learn that the state security services regard journalists as a ‘subversion threat’, according to a leaked New Zealand Defence Force security manual:

The manual’s first chapter is called “Basic Principles of Defence Security”. It says a key part of protecting classified information is investigating the “capabilities and intentions of hostile organisations and individuals” and taking counteraction against them.

The manual, which was issued as an order by the Chief of Defence Force, places journalists among the hostile individuals. It defines “The Threat” as espionage, sabotage, subversion and terrorism, and includes investigative journalists under the heading “subversion”.

Subversion, it says, is action designed to “weaken the military, economic or political strength of a nation by undermining the morale, loyalty or reliability of its citizens.”

It highlights people acquiring classified information to “bring the Government into disrepute”.

The story also reveals that our intelligence agencies have been spying on journalist Jon Stephenson:

The Sunday Star-Times has learned that New Zealand Defence Force personnel had copies of intercepted phone “metadata” for Stephenson, the type of intelligence publicised by US intelligence whistleblower Edward Snowden. The intelligence reports showed who Stephenson had phoned and then who those people had phoned, creating what the sources called a “tree” of the journalist’s associates.

New Zealand SAS troops in Kabul had access to the reports and were using them in active investigations into Stephenson.

The sources believed the phone monitoring was being done to try to identify Stephenson’s journalistic contacts and sources. They drew a picture of a metadata tree the Defence Force had obtained, which included Stephenson and named contacts in the Afghan government and military.

The sources who described the monitoring of Stephenson’s phone calls in Afghanistan said that the NZSIS has an officer based in Kabul who was known to be involved in the Stephenson investigations.

And since early in the Afghanistan war, the GCSB has secretly posted staff to the main US intelligence centre at Bagram, north of Kabul. They work in a special “signals intelligence” unit that co-ordinates electronic surveillance to assist military targeting. It is likely to be this organisation that monitored Stephenson.

The government’s line is that the GCSB need to be able to spy on New Zealand citizens to protect us from terrorists. There are three problems here. (1) ‘The country is in danger’ is what politicians always say when they want to extend the power of the state over its citizens and (2) there is no actual evidence of a real threat. Other countries like the US have strategic enemies, a history of previous attacks, foiled attacks, arrests and court cases all indicating that there’s a real threat. We don’t have any of those things – just politicians and spies telling us that we’re in danger so they need to take away some of our freedom. Problem (3) is that every time – EVERY TIME – we get a glimpse into what our intelligence services actually do its totally unrelated to protecting us from external or domestic threats. In this case the taxpayers are funding intelligence operations that safeguard the reputations and careers of government bureaucrats and persecute their perceived enemies in the media.

I’m opposed to the GCSB having warrentless access to my smartphone data, phone logs and web traffic in principle, but really it wouldn’t have any impact on me. If I were a political journalist, however, I’d be a little concerned about a new law that gave the government the power to access my phone records without any judicial oversight. Being a journalist IS ‘doing something wrong.’

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