Friday, July 12, 2013

The Human Rights Commission on the spy bill

One of the functions of the Human Rights Commission is to monitor human rights and report to the Prime Minister on any legislation which may adversely affect human rights. While it is rarely used, it is a core function, a key part of its role as a human rights watchdog. The HRC has just exercised that function over John Key's spy bill:

The Government's controversial legislation extending the GCSB's powers to spy on New Zealanders lacks sufficient checks against abuse of power or adequate transparency and accountability, the Human Rights Commission says.

The commission has added its voice to those, including the Opposition, calling for a full and independent inquiry into New Zealand's intelligence services.

The commission this morning released a report to Prime Minister John Key on the Government Communications Security Bureau and Related Legislation Amendment Bill, the Telecommunications (Interception Capability and Security) Bill and broader human rights matters regarding surveillance.

"The Commission is concerned that the proposed Bills are wide-reaching without sufficient safeguards against abuse of power. There is inadequate oversight and inadequate provision for ensuring transparency and accountability", chief commissioner David Rutherford said.

The full report is here [PDF]. The HRC argues that, contrary to John Key's assurances, broad and highly invasive powers are being handed to the GCSB and that these powers threaten freedom of speech, privacy, and the freedom to be free from unreasonable search and seizure. While the HRC accepts that some surveillance is necessary, these powers are grossly disproportionate and cannot be justified in a free and democratic society (in part because the government has made no serious attempt to justify them). They want the bill to be put on hold pending a full and independent inquiry into our intelligence services, aimed at finding the proper balance between human rights and security. And they want exposing the extent of metadata spying on New Zealanders, either by the GCSB or its foreign "partners", to be a key purpose of that inquiry.

The Prime Minister's response to this? Threaten the HRC's funding:
"I actually don't think it was a very good submission at all and they need to pull their socks up. If they're going to continue to be a government-funded organisation they should meet the deadline should everyone else."

Its when they're under pressure that you see what people are really like. And Key turns out to be a bully (and an ignorant one who can't distinguish between a select committee submission and a statutory reporting function) - just like Muldoon.