Bruce Bisset: New law a threat to all

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Even TV3's John Campbell swallowed without challenge John Key's untruth that New Zealander's emails could not be read by our spy agency. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Even TV3's John Campbell swallowed without challenge John Key's untruth that New Zealander's emails could not be read by our spy agency. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of the whole state surveillance debate is that mainstream media has aided and abetted the erosion of the much-vaunted "freedom of the press" by failing, abysmally, to understand that it was under attack, let alone protest the fact.

Bad enough the press failed to properly enunciate to the public exactly how extensive the new covert powers are; worse that journalists meekly accepted - and reiterated - political assurances it was no big deal, despite copious expert opinion to the contrary.

Even TV3's John Campbell, who at least made something of a campaign against the GCSB/TICS bills, swallowed without challenge John Key's untruth that New Zealander's emails could not be read by our spy agency.

And even after Key was forced to backtrack and admit they could be, the extent of media complicity was illustrated by TV3's news anchors still reporting, on the night the bill passed, only that "critics say" mail could be read.

Television was not alone in this. Oh, sure, plenty of bloggers and columnists came out against these Orwellian measures, but most leading media organisations downplayed and misrepresented what was at stake.

Which, apart from every individual's privacy, is the loss of the free exchange of information and ideas without fear - exactly what the fourth estate bangs on about when it gets precious about the "sanctity" of its role.

This is most curious given that recently investigative journalists and their sources have been harassed, detained, charged and generally painted as traitors in numerous places around the world (particularly the US and UK) when operating under exactly the same sort of "I spy" laws the National Government has now brought in here.

Indeed Kiwi Jon Stephenson's experience at the hands of an aggressive Defence Ministry covering up Afghan campaign issues should have alarmed every newshound.

Just this week, the partner of Guardian journo Glenn Greenwald - a conduit for whistle-blower Edward Snowden's leaked material - was detained under the Terrorism Act for nine hours at London's Heathrow airport and forced to disclose his electronic passwords (and had his devices confiscated) under threat of being jailed.

Also this week, the specialist technology law site Groklaw was closed by its founder because, in the wake of the US NSA admitting it routinely collected and analysed a wide range of communications from foreign and US citizens, the site could no longer guarantee anonymity to its sources.

This followed the demise of Lavabit, an encrypted email service. Lavabit closed because it refused (bravo!) to be compromised by an NSA demand for covert access.

Google, Facebook, Yahoo, Amazon, Microsoft and many other smaller platforms have either been implicated in or admitted compliance with the NSA's secret customer-access programme, which in sum lets the intelligence community read almost everything on a home computer - in contravention of the privacy agreements such companies make with customers.

And this is the global intelligence environment to which New Zealand now fully subscribes.

Assurances by Key he will not allow the GCSB to use the full extent of the new laws without "good reason" are worth less than the paper such restrictions are not printed on.

For New Zealand's media to blithely accept black is grey is a fundamental betrayal of journalistic integrity - not to mention common sense. A betrayal that will bite them very hard where it hurts. Sooner, now, than later.

Oh. Excuse me, there's a knock at the door ... Bruce Bisset is a freelance writer and poet.

- HAWKES BAY TODAY

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