Bryce Edwards ' Opinion

Bryce Edwards is a lecturer in Politics at the University of Otago.

Bryce Edwards: Political round-up: Growing anger over Dotcom fiasco

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Photo / NZ Herald
Photo / NZ Herald

How much do you trust New Zealand authorities? The current farce over Kim Dotcom is likely to erode the public's confidence in government, politicians, the police, officials - and in fact the whole Establishment. New Zealand's faith in institutions of authority has been on the wane for many years now, as evidenced by numerous surveys. For example, one credible survey a few years ago showed that over two-thirds of the public had either 'not very much confidence' or 'none at all' in Parliament, and three-quarters had little or no confidence in political parties. Similar levels of distrust and disquiet are often found in the public about other agencies of the state and authorities, and even business.

If provincial newspaper editorials are anything to go by, there is growing anger about the authorities' handling of Kim Dotcom. The Waikato Times' editorial entitled, NZ: 51st state of the US, is particularly worth reading. It says that the announcement of the illegal spying has 'heightened suspicions that this country's relationship with the United States has become one of servility rather than friendship'.

The editorial's conclusion is worth quoting at length: 'Dotcom is wanted in the US to face nothing more threatening than breaches of copyright laws. The GCSB's involvement - like so much about this case, including FBI agents, helicopters, heavily armed police and botched search warrants - has turned the pursuit of him and the operations of our law-enforcement agencies into the stuff of farce. It is preposterous to suggest Mr Dotcom threatens our national security. The Government's unquestioning readiness to co-operate with American authorities, on the other hand, seriously corrodes our claims to be an independent state'.

The Southland Times editorial is equally scathing: Crusading against Kim 'The lickspittle anxiety of New Zealand Government agencies to impress Kim Dotcom's would-be prosecutors in the United States has become more than a general national embarrassment. It is now acutely troubling'. It goes on with more scornful analysis, concluding that the Government's 'supposed political oversight of our intelligence service' has become too 'laissez-faire'. Similarly, today's Press editorial, Dotcom mistakes, warns 'the authorities need to bear in mind that New Zealanders' trust in their capabilities has been impaired. The prime minister should consider also that his refusal to deal adequately with John Banks, and Dotcom's apparent ability to turn each of the various twists in his case into a public relations victory, are damaging to the Government's image'.

In another example which shows that it's not just Nicky Hager anti-Establishment types who are upset by the Dotcom case, business journalist Fran O'Sullivan is warning that the business community will be alarmed by what's going on - see: Dotcom spying worry for business. She says 'If the authorities are so supine in their relationship with their US counterparts and so eager to corral an alleged copyright criminal - allegations which Dotcom is strongly contesting - that they don't check the basics before mounting their interception, what guarantees do other businesses have that this is a one-off affair?' O'Sullivan says it's bad news to see that the PM and his deputy and finance minister are obviously not working closely together.

Brian Rudman has a must-read analysis of the illegal spying - see: Keystone Cops too busy bowing to FBI demands. He is critical of the Prime Minister for pleading ignorance, derisive of the spies for blaming the police, and warns that the Government's inquiry ('in-house affair, cocooned in secrecy') might not satisfy the growing public doubt about what is going on. And with the latest illegal spying coming soon after the police's unlawful spying on the so-called Urewera 'terrorists', Rudman thinks the public will be suspicious 'that similar transgressions' could be widespread.

The National Government and John Key are particularly vulnerable on this latest twist in the Dotcom saga. Jane Clifton conveys the pressure that John Key has been under in the House in Drop, cover and hold, John. Rather that the 'usual chipper' PM 'resorting to wisecracking in rebuttal of tricky questions', Clifton reports that Key has exuded a very different demeanour this week, and during one of his answers 'paused and muttered, "Jesus!" under his breath'. Similarly, Adam Bennett's report suggests that Key is not in command of this issue - and has been vague and uncertain about many of the facts - see: Key on the back foot as Opposition leaders twist knife. Bennett says that the PM 'did not know if his own department - including two key intelligence groups - had been briefed on the GCSB's Dotcom spying'.

The police will also be feeling the heat, with many questioning 'inconsistencies', in particular by the officer in charge of the operation against Dotcom - see Kirsty Johnston and Ian Steward's Dotcom's lawyers question police statements. This pressure will increase today with news that Immigration New Zealand has confirmed that 'it passed its file on Dotcom to police in December' including information about his residence status - see Andrea Vance's Cops knew Dotcom's status before raid.

Graeme Edgeler has a further blogpost on the legalities of the issue, where he intelligently speculates why the PM might have delayed his announcement about the illegal spying and about whether the spies could be charged. Most importantly, he ponders why the police got the GCSB involved in the first place - see: Kim Dotcom: Questions and Answers.

And what about the actual spy agencies? Questions are now being asked about the role of the Security Intelligence Service in all of this, because 'the SIS, which has a close relationship with the GCSB, would have checked Mr Dotcom's background when he applied for and got residency' - see RNZ's SIS under scrutiny in Dotcom surveillance case. Of course we still don't know exactly what sort of spying activities the GCSB carried out on Dotcom. But today Nicky Hager provides a bit of background information on how the GCSB might have spied on Dotcom in the Fairfax article, Scandal's 'spooks' not regular spies. Hager gives two possibilities: 'So they could theoretically sit on a hill and pick up signals. Those signals intelligence officers are very good . . . they pick up all the local radio signals so basically they would be picking up his mobile-phone traffic'. He is also reported as suggesting 'The other way they could spy on Dotcom was through the Waihopai listening station, which is part of the Echelon network. "They'd actually just plug in his email address, his name, his company name whatever and see what comes off it" '.

The final word on the topic (for now) goes to blogger Scott Yorke who makes a salient point in his very short blog post explaining sarcastically why he has No Sympathy for Dotcom: 'Kim Dotcom has no right to be outraged over the covert recording of his conversations. If he wanted total privacy he should have held those conversations in an Epsom café'.


Debate on this article is now closed.

- NZ Herald

Bryce Edwards

Bryce Edwards is a lecturer in Politics at the University of Otago.

Bryce Edwards is a lecturer in Politics at the University of Otago. He teaches and researches on New Zealand politics, public policy, political parties, elections, and political communication. His PhD, completed in 2003, was on 'Political Parties in New Zealand: A Study of Ideological and Organisational Transformation'. He is currently working on a book entitled 'Who Runs New Zealand? An Anatomy of Power'. He is also on the board of directors for Transparency International New Zealand.

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