In a remarkable attack on the right to privacy, the New Zealand government has introduced legislation into their parliament that would allow a government agency to directly spy on New Zealand citizens and residents. This follows similar moves in February by Australia’s foreign spy agency, to expand its powers into domestic operations.
The Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) is New Zealand’s primary foreign intelligence agency. Under existing legislation, the GCSB was only permitted to focus on foreign intelligence and cyber security, and was forbidden from spying on New Zealand citizens and residents. According to Prime Minister John Key, “I expect the GCSB to always operate within the law.”
In January 2012, online copyright pirate Kim Dotcom had his Auckland house raided by armed police after the GCSB illegally spied on him in a joint operation with the United States. Dotcom allegedly breached copyright laws by running online file sharing sites. In a review following the raid, it was found that GCSB operations had potentially illegally spied on 88 New Zealand citizens or residents over the past decade.
Now, rather than taking action against the GCSB for these illegal breaches, the government is expanding the agency’s powers by legislating to allow the GCSB to spy on all New Zealand citizens and residents.
According to reforms, the GCSB will only have to seek permission from the minister overseeing the agency, currently Prime Minister Key, before it can spy on citizens or residents. Labour leader David Shearer has attacked the legislation, stating:
The state should not extend its powers to spy on citizens lightly … [John Key] is asking New Zealanders to trust him to personally decide who can be spied on, despite his record of lax oversight of the GCSB.
The legislation provides for a massive invasion of people’s privacy. The lack of safeguards allows for significant abuse of this new spying power, as only the relevant minister must give permission.