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David Fisher

David Fisher is a senior reporter for the NZ Herald.

Spy agency slow to put fixes in place

Recommendations on sorting issues show fewer than half done, with a June deadline

Prime Minister John Key acknowledged that the review will knock public confidence in the GCSB. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Prime Minister John Key acknowledged that the review will knock public confidence in the GCSB. Photo / Mark Mitchell

The path to improvement for Prime Minister John Key's malfunctioning spy agency appears to have frozen, a progress report shows.

Of 80 recommendations intended to fix the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB), just 35 have been completed.

The recommendations came after Cabinet Secretary Rebecca Kitteridge's report in April last year raised concerns about 88 instances where the GCSB had spied on New Zealanders.

Mr Key said then: "I acknowledge this review will knock public confidence in the GCSB. This is why the Government has a comprehensive response under way to address the organisational problems at the GCSB."

The response was a list of 80 recommendations intended to ensure the the GCSB acted legally. It was also intended to address organisational failings.

The first two reports released in June and September showed 34 recommendations had been completed.

The latest update from December - not released but supplied when sought by the Herald - showed just one new recommendation was met in the latest reporting period. It means a total of 35 recommendations have been completed with 45 to go and a June deadline looming.

An area with slow progress appears related to the GCSB's latest blunder in which it gave incorrect information in its annual report about the extent of its surveillance activities. Just two out of six recommendations around "measurement and reporting" were completed. It had completed just 11 of the 26 recommendations around compliance.

For the first time, the progress report also included partially completed recommendations. It shows another 27 are in progress - leaving 18 recommendations on which there appears to be no progress at all.

A spokeswoman for Mr Key said it was always known some recommendations would take more time.

GCSB director Ian Fletcher, who signed off the review, said the work needing to be done was "extended to include a significant amount of additional activity" around the new GCSB Act.

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The law change expanded the GCSB's role to include domestic spying on Kiwis for the NZSIS, police or military and also increased the reasons for which the bureau would be used.

Green co-leader Russel Norman said the Prime Minister failed to appreciate his agency had broken the law.

Intelligence expert Dr Paul Buchanan said it was likely the June deadline would be postponed.

- NZ Herald

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