David Fisher 's Opinion

David Fisher is a senior reporter for the NZ Herald.

David Fisher: Trust in secret agencies is wearing thin

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The power of information in our society rests with those who have it. Photo / Thinkstock
The power of information in our society rests with those who have it. Photo / Thinkstock

When the Operation 8 defendants were awaiting trial, one of those facing terrorism-related charges allowed me to sift through police evidence released under discovery. Among thousands of pages were dozens of text messages I had exchanged almost two years earlier with the accused person.

The messages arranged lunch meetings and/or discussion of possible stories. They definitely had nothing to do with anything remotely illegal or connected to Operation 8. Their inclusion showed to me the subjectivity employed by those with access to secret information. I don't know if the SIS or GCSB were involved in sourcing the text messages. But the decision to include messages between a journalist and the target of an investigation made me wonder at the mindset of the person choosing what was relevant and what was not.

A few years later, I asked a military source with extremely sensitive information: "What will they do to track down the source?" The source told me that my mobile phone records would show who I had spoken to and where I went.

The power of information in our society rests with those who have it. Progressive democracies entrust their citizens with almost all information the state can gather - with the exception of intelligence agencies. Some secrets are too dangerous to share and we are asked to trust those who hold them for us.

Doing so requires an exercise in faith. The faith is sorely lacking after the revelations about the GCSB in the past 10 months, and tested further by revelations made by the Guardian of monitoring on an Orwellian scale by the United States, a nation cringing still with fear and terror over a wound inflicted 12 years ago. Against its massive self-interest, New Zealand and its citizens must barely register.

Balance that against the apparent misguided and bumbling good intent of the GCSB, and faith becomes stretched too thin.

- NZ Herald

David Fisher

David Fisher is a senior reporter for the NZ Herald.

David Fisher was named best reporter at the Canon Media Awards 2013 for a portfolio of investigations, including the revelations of air force failures following the fatal Anzac Day Iroquois crash; an exclusive interview with Kim Dotcom; the donations to John Banks' mayoral campaign; and a report on the huge ACC privacy scandal. PGP Key here.

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