Keith Locke on the New Zealand Security Intelligence Service Amendment Bill – Committee stage – part 5 of 5

There are no real accountability mechanisms to either Parliament or the people



One of the problems with the Security Intelligence Service, and this is reflected in the New Zealand Security Intelligence Service Amendment Bill, and as I have said on a few occasions, is that it is a rather unaccountable agency and probably the least accountable in our Government system. One of the things that is reinforced in this amendment bill is the exemption of people helping the Security Intelligence Service in terms of warrants and in terms of any litigation. It is true, as in any Government agency, that if one is obeying the instructions of one’s superiors in carrying out certain Government functions that one should not be unnecessarily subject to litigation—

Sitting suspended from 6 p.m. to 7.30 p.m.


: Before dinner I was talking about the problem of removing from liability people who help the Security Intelligence Service in the execution of a warrant. I said that sure, when someone is performing a State function for any State organisation the fact that they are obeying the dictates of their superiors must certainly be taken into consideration, in most cases, but I do not think there should be a formal exclusion of liability in all circumstances. That can potentially lead to some people getting off some rather nasty and untoward behaviour. I think this is particularly true in the case of an agency that is so secret, and that is not subject to the Official Information Act in many regards. It has a let-out clause for matters of national security under the Official Information Act.

It does not really have accountability mechanisms that are up to standard—for instance, the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security is a body that people can appeal to if they ever find out that they are being unjustly spied upon, which is often a bit difficult. But that position is essentially part-time, not very well staffed, and for all the good will in the world of the person who may be the incumbent Inspector-General, it does not really act as a very good control agency for the Security Intelligence Service.

Similarly, we have heard earlier in the debate about how the Intelligence and Security Committee meets in secret, and does not meet very often. It is made up of the Prime Minister, the Labour leader, and their appointees, but they are busy people. They have spent a bit of time on this bill, which is to their credit, and they have come up with some positive amendments to the bill, but the Intelligence and Security Committee is not really a proper select committee of Parliament. It is not up to the standard of some of the overseas intelligence committees in Western democracies, such as in Britain and elsewhere, which have more teeth, get more information, and are more in the public domain in the sense that problems that arise are discussed, and open reports are made and discussed. I think even if we look at the report back from the Intelligence and Security Committee on the estimates and the annual reports, virtually nothing is there—there is no breakdown of expenses.

In that sense, the powers we are giving to the Security Intelligence Service under this bill—and I have talked about the liability clause—are not really accountable. There are no real accountability mechanisms to either Parliament or the people, and that is one of the reasons why the Green Party is not for proceeding with this particular bill. The Security Intelligence Service is unlike the police, which has the Independent Police Conduct Authority, with very rigorous examination, and a proper select committee—the Law and Order Committee. It has all sorts of accountability mechanisms built in, and it has more of the public media limelight on it. But where it is necessary, it acts in a secret way—if it is tracking down criminals whom it is unwise to warn that the police are giving them some attention. The police combine the necessary secretive element with the proper accountability. Unfortunately, the Security Intelligence Service, which has been given more powers under this bill, does not have those particular mechanisms.

Clause 1 agreed to.