John Key must be reading Alice in Wonderland on his bedside Kindle. Only in the topsy-turvy, make-believe world of that childhood classic, would it be seen as rational to bring a posse of out-of-control spies to heel by tossing them an extra $7 million and increasing their rights to snoop without a warrant.

Yesterday, the Government began to steamroll through Parliament a bill giving Big Brother the right to secret surveillance cameras on private property, and "conduct surveillance activities without a warrant in situations of emergency or urgency".

This after the Cabinet had already tossed the SIS an extra $7 million to hire new staff to go and hunt the latest bogeymen - "foreign terrorist fighters".

A few hours earlier SIS director Rebecca Kitteridge had been ordered by the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security Cheryl Gwyn to apologise to former Labour leader Phil Goff for her organisation, in effect, conniving with Mr Key's black ops Beehive staff, to hang Mr Goff out to dry.


The NZSIS had, said the Inspector-General, "released incomplete, inaccurate and misleading information" about a briefing Mr Goff had attended, and had "failed to take adequate steps to maintain political neutrality". She said that once the damaging and misleading information had become public, Ms Kitteridge's predecessor, Warren Tucker, "failed" to "take positive steps to correct the interpretation".

Of course, there was lots of blather about how things have changed in the three years since this occurred. But I've been hearing such hollow assurances since the late 1960s when it took a Commission of Inquiry to order the SIS to stop sending spies into Auckland University as undercover students, to monitor what fellow students were saying in tutorials, coffee bars and public meetings.

Just last year Ms Kitteridge, then Secretary of Cabinet, did a probe into the SIS's cousins at the Government Communications Security Bureau, and found that set of spies were equally careless when it came to obeying the law and respecting the rights and freedoms of those they were supposed to be serving. She revealed the GCSB had been involved in 56 illegal operations involving spying on 88 New Zealanders since 2003.

Despite that damning report, Parliament went ahead and increased their rights to intercept our electronic communications, forcing private telecommunications companies to give government spies access to their switchboards and computers.

In a repeat of this, Mr Key, whose senior staff were exposed in yesterday's report as manipulating the SIS in order to embarrass his Labour Party counterpart, is now trying to push though legislation entrusting the SIS to greater discretionary powers over our personal rights and freedoms. Yet all the evidence points to the need for greater restraints and boundaries on their activities, not less.

Not only will the SIS get the power to spy without a warrant, for up to 48 hours, on "a person not previously identified as a risk" who according to new "information" is "about to travel to a conflict zone", both they and the police will gain new rights to gain direct access to Customs and Excise's databases, including, one presumes, sensitive biometric data such as fingerprints and retina scans.

As Green Party co-leader Russel Norman says, these changes are draconian and anti-democratic. Even the terminology in the bill is alarmist and inaccurate. Called the Countering Terrorist Fighters Legislation Bill, it claims to address "the threat posed by foreign terrorist fighters". But the target is not "foreigners" but New Zealand passport-holders who the SIS suspects are heading offshore for battle.

Even the legislation explanatory note concedes a domestic terrorist attack is "not likely". To muddy the water, the Government says it has to rush this legislation through before the Cricket World Cup, to be played in Australia and New Zealand, begins next February. What do they fear? That the Black Caps will avoid another humiliating defeat by stuffing their pads with high explosives and blowing Eden Park - and themselves - to smithereens?


Maybe there are a handful of New Zealanders itching to fly off to the Syrian bloodbath. To me they're crazy and for their own good, should be dissuaded. But they're not a threat to our freedom. Their fight is in the Middle East, not here.

The threat is in corrosive little bills, like the one being rushed through Parliament.

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