Friday, August 16, 2013

A worthless promise

When John Key appeared on Campbell Live on Wednesday night, he gave a clear assurance that the GCSB would not be able to read our emails and listen to our phone calls when performing their "cybersecurity" function. "They cannot look at the content of anything in there. All they can do, is protect you", he said.

He's now admitted that he was wrong. But that's OK, because he's given us a personal promise that he won't let the GCSB read our emails, unless they think they should:

In a dramatic twist on the GCSB bill, John Key now says he will restrict warrants granted to the spy agency so it can't initially look at the content of New Zealanders' communications in carrying out its cyber-security function.

And he says if the Government Communications Security Bureau makes a good enough case to access content, he expects it to seek the consent of Kiwis before looking, unless there is a good reason not to.

The Prime Minister made the announcement last night in an exclusive written statement to the Herald.

This is bullshit in so many ways. Most obviously, if the GCSB was really trying to protect our online infrastructure from cyberattacks, then surely they can simply get consent (especially as they're primarily supposed to be protecting government agencies, who would give it as a matter of course). The only reason they need warrants at all is to monitor us without our consent. For our own "protection", of course.

But more importantly, Key's promise is worthless. Even if you trust him (and I don't), he won't be Prime Minister forever. Will the next Prime Minister be as well-inclined towards us? Will the one after that? We've had one Prime Minister in recent memory - Muldoon - who abused their powers over the security services for political gain. Can Key guarantee us that we'll never see anyone like him again? He can't.

And even more importantly than that: we are meant to be a country of laws, not of men. Real protection doesn't come from trusting the Prime Minister's word. It comes from solid laws that cannot be abused, and transparency so that we can see that they are not being abused.

Promises are worthless. If Key is serious about this, then he should change the law to require it. If he doesn't, then we should treat his "promise" as what it is: a smokescreen designed to ease passage of the law and then be quietly forgotten.