Tuesday, March 17, 2009

No more spying on MPs?

I'd like to post on the outcome of the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security's inquiry into SIS spying on Green MP Keith Locke, except that I'm not sure that I can. Why not? Well, take a look at s29 of the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security Act 1996:

(1) Except with the written consent of the Minister, no report or account of any inquiry by the Inspector-General, or any complaint before the Inspector-General, or any decision of the Inspector-General or the Minister relating to such inquiry or complaint shall be published in any newspaper or other document or broadcast by radio or television or otherwise distributed or disclosed in any manner whatsoever, unless the report or account is confined,—

(a) In the case of a complaint, to advice provided to the complainant by the Inspector-General in accordance with section 25(2) of this Act; and

(b) In any other case, to material that the Inspector-General has approved for release (the approval being an approval given in writing after the Inspector-General has consulted, in relation to security requirements, with the chief executive of the intelligence and security agency to which the inquiry or complaint relates).

The material may have been approved for release, but I haven't seen an official press release from the Minister or Inspector-general (either of which would strongly imply written approval). Given that the penalty is a year in jail and a $10,000 fine, its better to be safe than sorry. Besides, highlighting a totalitarian law which explicitly seeks to prevent the media from reporting on proven government wrongdoing seems rather more interesting...

But while I'm on the subject of the report, its also worth noting that the SIS aren't bound in any way to obey it or implement its recommendations (hence why the Inspector-General will be reporting on their implementation again in six months time). In fact, reading the relevant Act, the same could be said of the organisation in general. Control of our spies is not a matter of law, but of grace and favour, and for all practical purposes, does not exist. They are not accountable to their "watchdog", they are not accountable to the courts, they are not accountable to the Minister, and they are not accountable to Parliament (sorry, but a non-Parliamentary committee which never meets and which the SIS can lie to is not "accountability"). That fundamental lack of accountability underlies all of their abuses; unless someone watches (and more importantly, can sack and jail) the watchmen, they are invited to become a bigger threat than what they are watching for.