John Armstrong is the Herald's chief political commentator

John Armstrong: GCSB trickery and deception revealed

The outcome of the saga surrounding the GCSB's illegal surveillance of Kim Dotcom is Kafka-esque. Photo / Otago Daily Times
The outcome of the saga surrounding the GCSB's illegal surveillance of Kim Dotcom is Kafka-esque. Photo / Otago Daily Times

Break the law as an average citizen and you are in big trouble. Break the law and you happen to be the Government Communications Security Bureau and you are handsomely rewarded with even more unchecked powers open to potential abuse.

Such is the perverse, almost Kafka-esque outcome of the saga surrounding the GCSB's illegal surveillance of Kim Dotcom. The Prime Minister has now flagged special legislation which will legalise the long-standing practice of the bureau providing assistance to sister agencies, such as the Security Intelligence Service and the police, despite the law being absolutely explicit that the GCSB does not spy on New Zealand citizens or permanent residents.

John Key's solution may have a compelling logic for some people. After all, why not pool the resources of the intelligence agencies to catch international criminals or terrorists - especially as Key is promising a radical boost in the level of independent oversight of the GCSB?

Key's dilemma - as shown by the Dotcom case - is that the SIS needs the GCSB's electronic data surveillance function to monitor overseas emails and alert its American and European counterparts to do the same.

Key's solution, however, is rushed No8 fencing wire sort of stuff. For once, the Opposition parties are absolutely right. There should be a full inquiry into the intelligence agencies. Public hearings on any Government-authorised amending legislation - as promised by the Prime Minister - are not sufficient to quell concern. A full inquiry is needed because formally allowing the GCSB some room to function in a domestic context is potentially a huge foot in the door in that arena whatever conditions or provisos are put on such change.

The GCSB was set up in 1977 with the specific purpose of intercepting communications by foreign Governments, organisations and individuals. The bureau was put on a more established footing through legislation introduced into Parliament in 2001.

During the first reading debate, speaker after speaker - Labour and National - stressed how clause 14 in the bill provided protection for the rights of ordinary New Zealanders.

The Dotcom affair not only exposed the GCSB's incompetence. It exposed its trickery and deception. Key is now turning a blind eye to that. He is saying the GCSB should be granted what are necessary powers regardless. He has to be joking.

- NZ Herald

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John Armstrong is the Herald's chief political commentator

Herald political correspondent John Armstrong has been covering politics at a national level for nearly 30 years. Based in the Press Gallery at Parliament in Wellington, John has worked for the Herald since 1987. John was named Best Columnist at the 2013 Canon Media Awards and was a previous winner of Qantas media awards as best political columnist. Prior to joining the Herald, John worked at Parliament for the New Zealand Press Association. A graduate of Canterbury University's journalism school, John began his career in journalism in 1981 on the Christchurch Star. John has a Masters of Arts degree in political science from Canterbury.

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