A reality television show similar to Border Patrol would show Kiwis they have nothing to fear from the country's domestic intelligence agency, its director says.
Rebecca Kitteridge, director of the Security Intelligence Service, made her comments during an address to a privacy and identity conference in Wellington.
Such a speech marks a change in public relations efforts from the agency. Afterwards, Privacy Commissioner John Edwards told the audience he could not remember such a presentation from an intelligence director.
Ms Kitteridge acknowledged a mistrust of intelligence agencies by many people, and said suspicion was natural given that, "we do everything behind closed doors".
PR options available to other departments - including reality television shows that track the day-to-day working lives of police and customs officers - aren't available for hers, Ms Kitteridge said.
"I often think that if the public could see the people of the SIS doing their work, they would be delighted to see what hardworking, terrific people our intelligence officers are. I would love the service to have a television show like Border Patrol.
"Unfortunately that is not possible, we have to keep our operational work secret for very good reasons. We need to protect our methods and sources.
"But where it is possible to talk about our work - as I am today - I think we should. With others in the New Zealand intelligence community, I am working on being more open and transparent."
Ms Kitteridge, a lawyer, became SIS director last year, having earlier investigated the Government Communications and Security Bureau (GCSB) after its illegal spying on New Zealand resident Kim Dotcom shortly before the FBI raided him in 2012.
She said it was startlingly to think that the threat posed by Islamic State (Isis) did not feature in her job interview presentation.
"It is a big preoccupation for me now ... I don't want to overstate the situation in New Zealand ... there is a very small number of people in New Zealand inspired by Isil, who are talking about advocating or planning to commit violent acts here or elsewhere.
"The threat to our security posed by foreign terrorist fighters is real and it continues to develop rapidly."
Ms Kitteridge said intelligence agencies overseas were "dismayed" at the prospect of radicalised and battle-hardened citizens returning from the Middle East.
"The issue of returning foreign fighters is going to challenge security services around the world for many years to come."
Ms Kitteridge said that the warrant process that dictated who the SIS could spy on was robust, and its activities were subject to extensive oversight.
"We do not live in a surveillance state where everything you do online is reported - at least not by the Government. So, please enjoy the freedom that the internet gives you - you are free to click on whatever you want on your device, and you won't pop up on our system.
"Typically we get our leads through our interaction with the public, and information provided to us by other agencies ... by lawfully intruding on the privacy of a few, we make the majority safer."
Both the domestic intelligence agency the SIS and GCSB, with its foreign intelligence mandate, have come under intense scrutiny after a series of revelations and allegations.
Cheryl Gwyn, who as the Inspector General of Security and Intelligence and Security is responsible for independent oversight of both agencies, announced inquiries into the activities of the GCSB.
They are linked to claims the agency spied on foreign diplomats competing against Trade Minister Tim Groser to lead the World Trade Organisation, and allegations it conducts surveillance on Pacific nations, including New Zealanders living and working in the Pacific.
Soon after her own appointment Ms Kitteridge made public apologies over the actions of the SIS in 2011 when Warren Tucker was director.
Ms Gwyn's report found that a release of information to blogger Cameron Slater by Dr Tucker under the Official Information Act about a briefing given to Labour MP Phil Goff as Labour leader was incomplete, inaccurate and misleading and led to criticism of Mr Goff.
Ms Kitteridge told the audience at Te Papa today that such incidents were painful, but also lessons that were not ignored or forgotten.
Next month a wide-ranging review headed by former Deputy Prime Minister Sir Michael Cullen and lawyer Dame Patsy Reddy will examine both the SIS and GCSB.
The first regular review of the agencies, it will examine the legislative framework governing them, and consider how they are placed to protect New Zealand's interests and security.
"I think most people want a secure country, I think they accept that NZSIS needs the lawful authority to intercept private communications in order to protect the fundamental freedoms and values that make New Zealand the kind of country in which we want to live," Ms Kitteridge said.
"But they don't want their security agencies listening to every household, even in the interests of perfect national security. They want intrusive powers exercised only where it is necessary and proportionate.
"And that is the balance that must be struck. Exactly where the balance lies may shift from time to time, depending on the level of threat being experienced and the will of the people as expressed through the democratic process."