New Zealand Security Intelligence Service Amendment Bill – first reading speech Keith Locke

KEITH LOCKE (Green): The Green Party will be voting against the New Zealand Security Intelligence Service Amendment Bill, but before I explain why, I wish to register a protest about the way the bill is being rushed through the parliamentary process. The passage of the bill is accompanied by an unnecessary level of secrecy. There was no advance publicity about the bill before it was tabled in the House, nor any public consultations as to its contents, unlike other bills. The regulatory impact statement accompanying the bill says that “because of the operational sensitivity of the proposals, public consultation on the proposals was not undertaken.” That is simply not a valid excuse. There is nothing in the bill that is of an operationally sensitive nature. It is all about the powers that the SIS is to be given and the processes it has to conform to. After this first reading in the Parliament, the bill will go to the secret Intelligence and Security Committee for consideration. As things stand, the public and the media will not be allowed into that committee to hear the exchanges between submitters and committee members. Hopefully that will change. On Tuesday, the Prime Minister ruled out any open hearings, but yesterday he responded positively to my question and said he was taking further advice.

I suggest that he learn from former Prime Minister Shipley, who in 1999 allowed public hearings on the last SIS amendment bill. In the view of the Green Party, the people and the media have the right to be present during submissions on this bill. Submitters are the ones most likely to spot weaknesses in the bill, because unlike normal select committees the Intelligence and Security Committee is chaired by the Minister in charge of the bill, the Prime Minister, who is unlikely to be particularly critical of his own bill. By having the Prime Minister as the committee chairperson it also means that the Intelligence and Security Committee is a hopeless oversight body for the intelligence services. The Minister in charge of the SIS is hardly the person to lead an oversight body, particularly one to which he appoints most of the members. The result is that the SIS is the most unaccountable State agency we have, which is a key reason why the Green Party is voting against this bill. Essentially we do not want to give the SIS greater powers to invade our privacy when it is such an unaccountable organisation with a history of being used against political dissenters.

The Green Party can testify to that because three of its MPs, Catherine Delahunty, Sue Bradford, and myself, have all been provided with their SIS files, showing that our activities for greater social justice in this country drew the attention of the SIS, in my own case for several decades. This spying on dissenters has not ended. More recent cases, such as the Ahmed Zaoui case have not shown the SIS in a good light. Ahmed Zaoui, a democratic politician who had fallen foul of the Algerian military dictatorship was persecuted by the SIS for years until the agency admitted in legal proceedings that it did not really have a case. It was clear that the main concern of the SIS was to please what it called likeminded countries like France, which backed the Algerian dictatorship in its own interests. The rights of Mr Zaoui, who now runs a kebab stall in Palmerston North Square, were very much secondary.

One reason why political dissenters can and have been targeted by the SIS is that its legislated political mandate is very vague. For example, it is able to spy on those who prejudice “the international relations of the Government of New Zealand”. This is something that the Green Party could be guilty of each week in Parliament if one listened to National MPs. They think that the Green Party’s current opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade and investment agreement, and our request that the Government’s negotiating position be made public, prejudices the international relations of the New Zealand Government. The SIS operates in such great secrecy that it can spy on critics of Government policy with relative impunity. It is hard to argue for more intrusive powers for such an agency, which has clearly transgressed people’s human rights but cannot demonstrate to have done much to improve our safety as a people. This contrasts with the police, which is considerably more open and accountable in its activities. The police also have a mandate to detect politically motivated crime such as terrorism, and it is hard to see an additional and separate role for the SIS other than to spy on those who are actively opposed to the current policies of the Government of the day.

These changes to the powers of the SIS are being rushed through in unseemly haste, using the spectre of terrorism at next year’s Rugby World Cup as an excuse. Of course, New Zealand does need to have good security around the cup, but I think the police are perfectly capable of handling this. The limiting of alcohol would provide better security at the Rugby World Cup than limiting our civil liberties through granting these spooks extra powers. I think it is unlikely that we will be overrun by terrorists at the World Cup. It should be noted that rugby playing nations are remarkably free of terrorism, and perhaps that says something about rugby as a sport. Mind you, if we are talking about the danger of terrorism it might be more on the field than off the field. Players like Richie McCaw, and now Sonny Bill Williams, could well terrorise their opponents.

One of the problems with granting the SIS extra powers in the modern digital technology age is that it enables them to be used in a more intrusive manner than in the past. For example, this bill enables spooks to put tracking devices, under warrant, on a whole grouping of people and track them everywhere they go using global positioning system technology. Also the bill gives the SIS an extra explicit power to “monitor” an audiovisual or electronic interception device covertly placed in someone’s home. The increased sophistication and miniaturisation of such devices allows for more widespread monitoring of people’s private activities. The legislation also makes it easier for warrants to be changed or expanded on authority delegated from the SIS director so that extra phone companies or Internet service providers can be roped in to help intercept the communications of a particular person or group of people. The range of information that the SIS can intercept or collect is explicitly expanded in the bill so that warrants now contain such details as email addresses, user account identifiers, Internet protocol addresses, and Internet storage accounts. Basically whatever a person does on a computer can now be accessed.

This bill takes us one more step down the road to a surveillance State, where more and more of our private activities can be monitored. This spying will almost always take place without us knowing, which accounts for the lack of complaints about SIS surveillance to the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security. Public reporting by the SIS tells us almost nothing about the spying going on. We do get annual statistics on the number of warrants issued but we have no idea how many people are covered by each warrant. The secretive nature of the SIS and the lack of accountability to Parliament and the people means that it can be more easily harnessed to serve the interests of other States, as I have already explained in the Ahmed Zaoui case. Our Government’s recent defence white paper describes the United States as our stalwart partner, so it is probably the American intelligence agencies we have to worry about bending the SIS towards their interests. In summary, I think that this agency is one that we have to have great suspicions about, particularly about extending its powers. It operates in an unaccountable way. It operates in a secret way with very little oversight from Parliament and the people, and it has a history of spying on political dissenters. In fact, it may be being used by other powers. In the recent case exposed by WikiLeaks of the United States spying on United Nations officials, including former Prime Minister Helen Clark, it may well be that the Waihopai spy station was used, even inadvertently from a New Zealand Government position, in this because Waihopai is integrated into the United States intelligence apparatus. The Green Party will oppose this bill as one that is contrary to New Zealand’s interests and the interests of the privacy of New Zealanders.