Governments, including our own, want new powers to bludgeon anyone they don’t like into submission.
The raid on Nicky Hager's house this week, and removal of material after an exhaustive 10-hour search, gives us a tasty preview of how police could be roped into doing the bidding for higher powers intent on revenge against those who criticise the Government.
That might seem extreme. After all, many take a different view: Nicky Hager received stolen/hacked information, published it because he was politically motivated to try and destroy the National Party, and is now being justifiably pinged for it.
But that's not a pearl of an argument, because in the first instance, it is not against the law to publish material that has been hacked or leaked. Especially that which no one has ever said is untrue.
Nicky Hager qualifies as a journalist under the law - so does Cameron Slater - and even if one can mount an argument that they should not be publishing information they have no legal right to (which both have done), one can mount a counter-argument that, at least in the case of Dirty Politics, there's a public interest in seeing just how vulnerable to special interest groups with deep pockets our democracy actually is.
It will be interesting to see how the authorities deal with Hager, because at the moment they appear to lack the actual legislation to charge him with anything at all.
But it seems increasingly likely that legislation that will stop the Nicky Hagers of the world will appear, and proof of that can be found by following developments of our allies around the world.
Collectively, Five Eyes network Governments are grabbing more and more legislative power to monitor, detain, and punish citizens who engage in sideline activities, ostensibly in a bid to make them more 'secure'.
New Zealand looks set to follow this path as well.
The warning signs are unmistakable - the obfuscation on mass surveillance (we're not doing it, but someone might be doing it on our behalf); the vague references to terrorists in our midst; the selective and overblown police response to whistleblowers threatening to expose the Government, and the drum beat to war against a Middle Eastern foe (of another country's) - to list just a few.
It's already well advanced across the ditch. The Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) has just been granted new powers to detain people without charge for up to seven days during which they are to have no contact with the outside world, and during which, if they refuse to answer questions, they will be imprisoned indefinitely.
ASIO - already powerful - will also be allowed to conduct 'coercive questioning' - the true extent of which is deliberately kept open-ended.
Under the same legislation, travellers to Australian airports will have their data collected through biometric or iris scanning - information that can be freely shared between national and international agencies and will not be subject to the usual privacy safeguards. Oversight of the measures will be limited.
In England, meanwhile, the ruling Conservative Party has just pledged it will introduce 'extremism disruption orders' to counter extremists who spread hate, but do not break existing laws.
These laws target the "full spectrum of extremism".
It includes not just those inciting hatred but those undertaking harmful activities "for the purpose of overthrowing democracy".
It means, in essence, anyone the Government doesn't like. Once labelled, any 'extremist' can be banned from being allowed access to broadcast media, and would have to submit anything for publication anywhere to the police first.
New Zealand is a way off this kind of legislative onslaught, for how long?
We may bring the fight with Islamic State home ourselves, justifying such measures further.
Witness the talk of terrorism threats and the increasingly apparent intention to involve ourselves in a war in Iraq - all quite a different way of approaching the issue that was taken by New Zealand in the last Iraq invasion, when we still valued our independent voice and didn't feel the need to move in lock step with our more powerful allies in an exercise that seemed doomed to failure.
It is one thing to try and keep the threat of violent militants out of New Zealand, and to stop any within the country in their tracks.
But it's quite another to use a currently distant threat to justify ingratiating ourselves with our trading partners and worse, to use the situation to enact laws that will bludgeon true terrorists, whistleblowers, cranks and ordinary grumblers with the same force. That really is dirty politics, and we need to be vigilant to stop its spread.
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