Audrey Young

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

Law Society slams spy agency bill

The bill allows for greater spying by the agency on New Zealanders in its beefed-up role in cyber security of both government and private sectors. Photo / Thinsktock
The bill allows for greater spying by the agency on New Zealanders in its beefed-up role in cyber security of both government and private sectors. Photo / Thinsktock

The Law Society has made a stinging attack on proposed law changes governing the GCSB spy agency, saying they effectively transform it from a foreign intelligence agency to a domestic one without any justification being given.

InternetNZ has also raised serious concerns about the bill before Parliament, saying its powers are too broad.

Submissions on the Government Communications Security Bureau and Related Legislation Bill closed on Friday, and hearings on it will begin early next month.

The Law Society submission, written by Rodney Harrison, QC, says: "It is difficult to identify the pressing and substantial concerns that the bill purports to remedy or address."

The society recognised the critical role intelligence gathering played in ensuring the security of New Zealand but "extensive and pervasive amendments to the state's power of surveillance should not be passed by Parliament lightly nor without the fullest extent of debate possible.

The Law Society does not consider that sufficient justification has been provided for the proposed reforms".

The bill allows for greater spying by the agency on New Zealanders in its beefed-up role in cyber security of both government and private sectors.

It lets the GCSB spy on Kiwis when it is helping agencies such as the Security Intelligence Service (SIS) and the police to perform authorised surveillance activities.

But it also gives the GCSB legal authority to do anything the entity it is helping is legally authorised to do.

Dr Harrison says that could give a protected legal status to some activities that might not otherwise receive it. "This outcome is unacceptable and inconsistent with the rule of law."

He says the bill effectively transforms the GCSB from a foreign intelligence-gathering agency into an additional domestic spy agency.

"It seems that the underlying objective of the legislation is to give the GCSB powers it lacked previously: the power to conduct surveillance on New Zealand citizens and residents. No explanation or justification for the conferral of this power is given."

InternetNZ's submission, in the name of acting director Jordan Carter, says it supports the provisions of the bill that address cyber security of NZ's information infrastructure.

But it questions whether such a function should be housed alongside an intelligence operation.

It proposes compartmentalising the agency's operations to increase public confidence in the cyber security function.

The submission says the legislation lacks sufficient clarity about the circumstances in which the communications of New Zealanders will be gathered.

"A broad reading renders the sum effect of the bill, as currently drafted, as providing access to anyone's communications whether live or stored, including internet communications."

It says that although the ability of governments to collect communications and metadata has advanced under the internet, human rights such as privacy are treated as less important online than off.

- NZ Herald

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