Audrey Young

Audrey Young is the New Zealand Herald’s political editor.

Spy watchdog switch ahead of hearings

PM to chair panel looking at GCSB law changes.

Prime Minister John Key. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Prime Minister John Key. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Prime Minister John Key has replaced the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security on the eve of public hearings at Parliament about a bill expanding the legal powers of the GCSB spy agency.

Justice Paul Neazor, 79, a former Solicitor-General and High Court judge, had been in the job for nine years. He was appointed in 2004 for a three-year term and was reappointed twice.

He will be replaced by former High Court judge Andrew McGechan on an interim basis.

The bill before the House, the Government Communications Security Bureau and Related Legislation Amendment Bill, will make changes to the oversight.

Assuming the Government gets the numbers to pass the bill, it will limit the term of an inspector-general to six years, widen the pool of contenders to beyond former High Court judges and give them some built-in peer oversight with a deputy as well.

Justice Neazor found that the 88 occasions on which the GCSB spied on New Zealanders since 2003 were all lawful, although he concluded that the law was unclear.

Mr Key said the bill would make the law crystal clear.

Yesterday, the PM said he did not necessarily have concerns that someone could be providing oversight of intelligence agencies at the age of 80.

It depended on the individual.

He thought Justice Neazor had done a good job.

"But I think the reality is that the reach of that office needs to be broadened and the depth and capability needs to be broadened."

Mr Key is expected to face a wave of criticism over the bill when he chairs the committee at Parliament this afternoon hearing submissions. The Law Society, one of the submitters, is first. The Council of Trade Unions will also appear today.

What the bill does

* The GCSB is New Zealand's foreign intelligence agency and the bill allows for greater domestic spying in its beefed-up role in cyber security of both Government and private sectors.

* It lets the GCSB spy on New Zealanders when it is helping agencies such as the Security Intelligence Service (SIS) and the police to perform authorised surveillance activities, a role it has played for many years but without explicit legal authority to do so.

* The bill allows the Cabinet to expand by regulation the Government entities the GCSB can work with and it gives the GCSB legal authority to do anything the entity it is helping is authorised to do.

- NZ Herald

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