When parliament approved a new secret police force four years ago, we were assured it was not to spy on citizens but to keep us safe from international terrorism.
The whole thing was nonsense, of course, and purely political window-dressing so our government could be seen to be doing our part in the so-called war on terrorism.
In response to criticism this unit would inevitably be used against political groups, the then Prime Minister Helen Clark took offence and solemnly pledged it would focus only on real terrorists. Under no circumstances would it have any role in monitoring the affairs of domestic political dissent.
It's now evident the Secret Intelligence Group has been running spies to infiltrate political parties, protest groups, trade unions and other social justice activities.
I have received a folder of emails from the computer of their informant Rob Gilchrist, which shows he has been collecting information about my union, Unite, and seven others since 2005. As well, the Green Party and a number of protest groups also appear to have been targeted.
There isn't anything sinister in the emails from any of these organisations because none of them was doing anything wrong or covert. But the fact Gilchrist was encouraged to keep sending them to his handlers is disturbing. There are even emails from members of Parliament advertising meetings they were to speak at. What could possibly be the purpose of our secret police collecting these?
These groups which were being spied on are incorporated societies carrying out legitimate work on behalf of their members and supporters. They are democratic and transparent. No one has ever accused them of criminal behaviour, let alone terrorism.
When this story broke, our Police Commissioner Howard Broad assured us this unit didn't target groups, only individuals believed to be preparing for serious criminal or terrorist acts. When his informant's emails showed this wasn't true, Broad then said they only observed groups with which terrorist suspects were associating.
Gilchrist started collecting information on our union three years ago. At that time we were running our SupersizeMyPay campaign, set up to abolish youth wages and raise the minimum wage to $12 an hour.
Through a combination of employer negotiations, community demonstrations and parliamentary lobbying, we won. Tens of thousands of workers have since had their wages lifted by more than $3 an hour, in large part because of this campaign, and youth wages were scrapped.
Are our spies seriously suggesting minimum wage workers and school kids working in fast-food restaurants were part of a budding al Qaeda network? My staff recall that Gilchrist inveigled his way into the union by boasting to impressionable teenagers on our picket lines how radical he was and how they needed to take more direct action to win their claims.
The actions of this spy unit go to the heart of our democracy. Frankly, their actions are worse than the so-called danger they claim to want to protect us from. What could be more of a threat to our society than a secret police force paying undercover "Walter Mitty-type" informants to infiltrate and secretly report on civil and political groups? Isn't that what totalitarian governments do?
The only credible defence from our spies is that their informant was collecting random information that they didn't ask for. But he was passing it on for more than three years. If, as they claim, they weren't targeting these groups, then why wasn't this informant told to stop?
The right-wing argument that if you're not doing anything illegal you shouldn't need to worry should go both ways. Therefore my union has filed an Official Information Act request for all communications about Unite. If they aren't doing anything wrong they will have no problem in agreeing to our request.
For those of you who feel I may be over-reacting I raise the following incident which does have a sinister undertone. A meat worker who ran as a communist candidate in the last election was detained at Auckland Airport for four hours after returning from Australia. She was subjected to a humiliating strip search. Nothing was found. But what was disturbing is the Customs officers spent the whole time grilling her on her political activity and were well aware of her history.
The only way you can explain this is that a file has been compiled on her and given to other state agencies. If this doesn't worry New Zealanders, we're in real trouble.
The best Helen Clark could come up with last week was surprise at what's happened. The new Prime Minister, John Key, should agree to the request by the targeted unions for a full inquiry. If the unit has been spying on organisations carrying out lawful work, it should be disbanded and the Police Commissioner sacked.
In future, when our political leaders tell us we need greater police power to fight terrorism, just be aware it has little to do with keeping us safe and everything to do with keeping us under control.