Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Another day, another IGIS investigation

One of the most significant changes John Key made to the Government Communications Security Bureau Act in 2013 was to weaken the protection for kiwi's communications. Previously, the Act forbade the GCSB from doing anything to intercept the "communications" of a New Zealander. Key rewrote that clause so that it only protected New Zealanders' "private communications", and only from spying for foreign intelligence (thus giving the GCSB carte blanche to spy on us for "cybersecurity"). The addition of that one word changed the law from an ironclad protection to one with infinite wiggle room around public expectations of privacy. And because the GCSB is a secret agency which refuses to publish its legal advice, we have no idea whether they are exploiting that wiggle room in their internal legal advice to allow spying which Parliament never contemplated and never gave them permission for. But now, the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security has stepped in to investigate their interpretation of the law:

The country's spy watchdog is to investigate whether the Government Communications Security Bureau is using its interpretation of private communication to spy on New Zealanders.

It will form part of the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security's wider inquiry into complaints about the bureau following the release of documents by the American whistleblower Edward Snowden.


While Ms Gwyn would not respond to his specific complaint, she wrote to him saying her investigation would include looking at how the GCSB interpreted private communication and whether its collection of information raised questions about that interpretation.

While she's at it, she should look at forcing them to publish their internal legal interpretations of their powers. Because the current situation of the law effectively being secret undermines trust in the GCSB. But the big lesson from Snowden is that we cannot trust our spies; if they want to enjoy public confidence that they are behaving lawfully and in accordance with their legal mandate, they need to show us.