Thursday, February 11, 2021

NZ spies support torture

The Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security released their annual report today, and in amongst all the usual bureaucracy, there's some rather startling revelations. The first, and most horrifying, is that New Zealand's spy agencies are refusing to accept IGIS recommendations from its Operation Burnham inquiry to adopt a more stringent standard limiting intelligence cooperation where it may contribute to torture and other human rights abuses:

Our second recommendation, that the agencies’ human rights test for information sharing should be more protective, has not been accepted by them at this time. The agencies’ position is that any change to the policy threshold at which they mitigate risks in information sharing should only occur after the current review of the Foreign Cooperation MPS, led by DPMC. However, we think the more precautionary approach could be adopted now.
IGIS has suggested the same standard used by Canada and the UK (aimed at eliminating past practices of outsourcing torture while pretending it was not happening), but the spy agencies are for some reason resisting this. They need to tell us why, because the natural conclusion is that they want that practice to continue, and that they support torture.

Similarly, there's this bit:

The second issue, also being considered in the Foreign Cooperation MPS review, is what obligations, if any, should be imposed on the agencies when they receive information which they reasonably believe may have been obtained from human rights abuses overseas, especially if there is no realistic risk their receipt of the information could contribute to any new or ongoing abuse. New Zealand law does not directly govern this, and the answer is more a question of public policy and propriety.
"No realistic risk [of] new or ongoing abuse" sounds a lot like "torture is OK if you murder the victim afterwards". And that is simply not a position we should accept. Our spy agencies should refuse to accept any information sourced from human rights abuses overseas, whether abuse is ongoing or not. This is the best way to give effect to the Convention Against Torture's obligation that information obtained by torture is not used as evidence (except as evidence that torture was committed). Otherwise we're simply inviting laundering, and by doing so, encouraging torture.

Together, these two sections paint a very troubling picture of the lack of ethics in our spy agencies. Opposition to torture is pretty fundamental to any decent ethical system (not to mention our government's policy), but it is clear that our spies do not share it, and want to quibble. "Can we, can we" is irritating when it comes from children. When it comes from grown adults about torture, it suggests they are amoral psychopaths, who are unfit for any role in an ethical public service.

There's other stuff in there. Two warrants to spy on New Zealanders were found to be "irregular" (that is, illegal), in both cases because the spy agencies basicly made no case for the spying. Which suggests they are still being far to slack in considering whether their activities are necessary and proportionate, and instead just invading people's privacy willy-nilly. On top of that, it appears neither agency is complying with the requirement in the Foreign Cooperation MPS that they refer all new foreign cooperation arrangements to Parliament's Intelligence and Security Committee, which suggests a continued resistance to Parliamentary oversight. Which invites the question of why Parliament is continuing to fund them, when they are refusing to comply with their most basic ethical, legal, and democratic obligations.