Matt McCarten on politics

Matt McCarten is a Herald on Sunday political columnist

Matt McCarten: I spy cause for serious concern

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A small number of protesters marched to PM John Key's house in Parnell to protest the GCSB bill yesterday. Photo / Michael Craig
A small number of protesters marched to PM John Key's house in Parnell to protest the GCSB bill yesterday. Photo / Michael Craig

The GCSB bill is due to be passed into law on Tuesday by a single vote.

The conventional wisdom is that opposition to the changes is a beltway issue, which means those in Parliament (and the press gallery) are the only ones who care about it.

After all, most people want the State to have the tools to protect its citizens from harm. That's what John Key is hoping will carry that day.

But there's something sinister about how our PM has managed changes he wants for spooks who spy on us. Here's my unease:

1. Extending State spying powers has always been by political consensus. Labour's David Shearer and NZ First's Winston Peters have both said they were prepared to compromise. Their suggested amendments seemed reasonable. But Key is having none of it. Why?

2. The Law Society, the Privacy Commissioner, many respected jurists, and even a former GCSB boss oppose it publicly.

When New Zealander of the Year Dame Anne Salmond says anyone who supports the bill has no right to turn up to Anzac events, then the penny must drop for mainstream Kiwis.

3. Key can now only get it through by Peter Dunne casting the determinative vote. The hypocrisy of Dunne supporting spies getting access to citizen's emails, although he claimed personal privacy when refusing to give up his emails after he was accused of leaking classified documents, is contemptible. John Banks has already sold his party's libertarian principles and supports the bill. Key now endorses the Act leader for Epsom at the next election. Join the grubby dots. No doubt Dunne will get endorsed for Ohariu once the vote goes through.

4. What happened to Kim Dotcom can happen to anyone. The raid on his house and the incompetence and covering up afterwards should be disturbing to every New Zealander. The bill gives more power. The GCSB spy system is linked into the US and UK spy network so foreign spooks will, in my view, be able to access our citizens' information, too.

5. It seems a week doesn't goes by without confidential personal information on individuals being leaked by a government department by incompetence. We have even had Cabinet ministers and ministry bosses happy to expose personal details of clients or employees when it serves their purposes. The temptation to use personal information against individuals will always be there.

6. There's something scary about a politician deciding who gets spied on. When I was a teenager the then-PM Robert Muldoon released a list of his political opponents he said were being investigated by the Secret Intelligence Service. The smear was deliberate. Will a future leader use such information for political ends? You bet.

When civil society is potentially threatened, citizens need to register their concern. Tomorrow at 7pm opponents are meeting at the Auckland Town Hall. Sometimes it's important to send a message.

Debate on this article is now closed.

- Herald on Sunday

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