Surveillance law changes criticised

Prof Kevin Clements. Photo / Otago Daily Times
Prof Kevin Clements. Photo / Otago Daily Times

Planned surveillance law changes will move New Zealand towards a "national security state", two University of Otago professors say.

Prof Kevin Clements and Prof Richard Jackson, of the university's National Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies, said yesterday proposed GCSB changes were being promoted as addressing a "legal anomaly".

But the proposal had "worrying implications for individual privacy, civil liberties and national security", they said.

"It provides expanded powers of surveillance without evidence of real necessity or effectiveness, or corresponding safeguards of individual liberty and privacy."

The law change would effectively merge the GCSB - the Government Communications Security Bureau - and the SIS - Security Intelligence Service - plus the intelligence wings of the military and the police.

This was moving New Zealand towards what was known as a "national security state", with all that meant in terms of intrusive surveillance capacity, challenges to freedom of speech, control of citizens, and potential civil rights abuses.

"We do not think this critical law should be changed without more extensive public discussion about its potential costs and benefits."

"Who Guards the Guardians?" was an important question.

Prof Clements said in an interview the proposed changes meant a "real blurring of roles" between the GCSB, responsible partly for external communications surveillance, and the SIS, which had national security duties.

There were good reasons for keeping the roles separate, and the official oversight, and authorisations required - including court-directed warrants - involving the SIS were much greater than that required of the GCSB.

The latter body was closely linked to US and British intelligence agencies through international intelligence agreements.

The law change was being rushed through the provide some after the fact justification for illegal government surveillance over the past 18 months.

While such capacity might be useful in relation to criminal activity, the professors said there was no hard evidence, they were aware of, that "such intrusive surveillance mechanisms have played a significant role in the prevention of serious political violence or terrorist activity".

- Otago Daily Times

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