Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Spying on journalists III

Last week when we learned that the Henry inquiry had asked Parliamentary Services for Andrea Vance's private phone records, we were told that they had not been handed over. It was a lie:

Speaker David Carter has confirmed three months worth of phone records for Fairfax journalist Andrea Vance were handed over to a ministerial inquiry.

Carter today apologised to Vance and Fairfax group executive editor Paul Thompson and acknowledged answers given last week in response to the journalist's phone record were wrong.


Carter said today he became aware on Friday his answer in response to questions about Vance's phone records was wrong.

Three months worth of phone records had "inadvertently" been supplied to Henry by Parliamentary Service during the course of his investigations.

The information had been collated by parliamentary contractor Datacom.

Henry claims that he never requested those records, and had instead been seeking records of Ministers. But its hard to see why they would have been supplied except in response to a direct request. Interestingly, last week Carter said they were requested. Given that he's now changed his story twice, I'm not sure we can trust him to be telling the truth now.

But even if we accept his latest story, it tells us that Parliamentary Services are a bunch of muppets, and that contracting out services subject to Parliamentary privilege to companies with no understanding of the concept is not a good idea. Again, heads must roll for this - and the chief executive of Parliamentary Services is the prime candidate, for letting this happen on their watch.

Also in the "not a good idea" category is Parliament supplying telecommunications services to the press gallery. Clearly, merely paying for it is not enough to ensure ownership or to protect such communications from random government snooping. And again: if their data traffic goes across the same phone lines, it should be regarded as fundamentally compromised.

Finally: John Key's spy bill would let the GCSB do to everyone what Henry did to Vance, legally and in secret. We cannot permit it to pass. This spying government must be defeated.