Claire Trevett

Claire Trevett is the New Zealand Herald’s deputy political editor.

Key's terror claims under fire

Prime Minister John Key yesterday broke his silence on security issues, saying New Zealanders had attended militant camps. Photo / Greg Bowker
Prime Minister John Key yesterday broke his silence on security issues, saying New Zealanders had attended militant camps. Photo / Greg Bowker

The Government intensified its sales job on the GCSB Bill yesterday, with the Prime Minister claiming some New Zealand citizens have had al-Qaeda training in Yemen.

The bill passed its second reading yesterday by 61-59 as the Government tried to dampen concerns over the powers it grants to the GCSB to spy on behalf of other agencies, and spy on New Zealanders in the interests of cyber security.

It is expected to go through its final stages next week, when the amendments to tighten oversight that MP Peter Dunne secured in return for his support will be introduced.

In an apparent bid to emphasise the need for effective spy agencies, Mr Key yesterday said on More FM that some New Zealanders had travelled to Yemen to attend al-Qaeda camps and were under surveillance.

He refused to give further details but, asked later in the day, said he had signed warrants for surveillance of "a small number" of people who were in Yemen.

"Some of them are still off-shore and some are in New Zealand.

"The fact someone might have a link might be the sort of reason the Government raises a warrant to observe their behaviour. It doesn't necessarily mean they've broken the law at this point."

Labour leader David Shearer said Mr Key was scaremongering, but refused to say whether he had also been briefed about al-Qaeda links.

"I can't really see his point. I think it's yet another one of those episodes when John Key is in a hole, he brings out the weapons of mass distraction."

Mr Key said much of the opposition to the bill was misinformed. "People can't have it both ways. They can't say potentially there is a risk which we need to monitor, and then say we don't want you monitoring anyone."

Attorney General Chis Finlayson made it clear in his speech to Parliament that the GCSB would require a warrant to collect metadata in the same way as any other data. Metadata is basic phone and internet logs, and some submitters had raised concerns that a grey area meant the GCSB had the power to harvest phone logs in bulk, as in Britain under the Prism programme.

Opposition MPs also attacked Peter Dunne for his support of the bill after initially opposing it.

Labour's Phil Goff said the Government was rushing it through despite warnings from the privacy and human rights commissioners.

"This Government is relying on two discredited MPs to pass legislation that we should be very cautious about."

Mr Finlayson said much of the criticism of the bill had been "misinformed". He said national security was vital for maintaining freedoms and keeping a country safe.

"But equally national security legislation must not have grey areas of uncertainty or doubtful interpretation that allow the state to gradually extend its activities and creep into ordinary people's private lives like some growing shadow."

The bill was written after the Kitteridge report found 88 cases in which the agency might have spied unlawfully on New Zealanders on behalf of agencies such as the police and SIS.

- NZ Herald

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