Bruce Bisset: I spy Big Brother killing privacy

By now we all know, thanks particularly to whistle blower Edward Snowden, that virtually all communications worldwide are captured and stored in purpose-built facilities for the delectation of the US and its "Five Eyes" partners, including New Zealand.

What we should also know is National's current GCSB Bill merely legitimises the existing access and analysis arrangements, including that the basis for investigating any citizen may be as petty as simply declaring an interest in them.

Yep. Guilty awaiting proof is the new standard rule of law.

So, for example, John Key, as the minister in charge, might say to the GCSB, "Those Greenies are a pain. Get me some dirt on them." And the GCSB, the prevailing culture of which interprets "Greenies" as equalling "subversives", jumps eagerly to it.

First it would access the Bluffdale data centre in Utah, where all captured communications are held, and perhaps pull up and sift through all email phone and text messages of all Green MPs and executive officers. This may not provide anything truly "subversive", but would certainly deliver an enormous political resource to National.

With everything including internal party debates on policies and strategies laid out very handily in front of them, the Nats could pre-empt or discredit anything the Greens were planning.

In short, it gives whoever is in power a doomsday weapon with which to annihilate the opposition.

Result? The opposition ceases to be effective, because it is covertly prevented from being so. In other words, hello ruling-party-knows-all fascist state.

Given the Prime Minister's unapologetic confirmation that Peter Dunne's supposedly private parliamentary emails were accessed by the GCSB without his permission, this scenario is hardly far fetched.

Indeed, National (through the Prime Minister) is but one small step away from being in a position to do exactly this. And that step, folks, is the removal of any robust measure to demonstrate "good cause" for spying on a subject - the very check the new bill effectively removes.

You can be a "target of interest" merely because someone deems it so.

I'll bet literally everyone has at some point in the last five years - since the data-storage facility started hoarding our private records - used words like "terrorist" or "9/11" or "muslim" in some communication.

Those and other keywords the spooks use to sort through data make everyone a target for "profiling".


As Kim Dotcom said to the select committee, it's ironic to accuse him of piracy when the spy agencies are the real pirates, seizing and sorting through the detail of our private lives without our knowledge.

And pirates, by nature, do not believe in innocence. It certainly will not stop them plundering.

Do these events mark the death of privacy as we've known it? Clearly, yes.

What urgently needs debate, therefore, is not only whether to give licence to the Government to spy wholesale on its citizens - since that is already the covert status quo - but how to change the processes so that no one person or party gains undue advantage from the gathered information.

In that light, the major flaw in the current legislative proposal is the lack of data sharing among all parties in Parliament. At the least, the GCSB must be put under the oversight of a pan-party committee, no member of which (Prime Minister or no) should have any right to access or withhold any information the other parties are not privy to.

Beyond that, all citizens - and corporations - need to be engaged in a process of revision of their rights, based around what level of covert intrusion they should reasonably expect, because currently, as has been amply demonstrated, the erosion of privacy has no limits.

That's the right of it.

*Bruce Bisset is a freelance writer and poet.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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