Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Secrecy corrupts democracy

The Intelligence and Security Committee - which is not a Parliamentary select committee, but a statutory one - will be meeting today to hear submissions on the New Zealand Security Intelligence Service Amendment Bill. The bill will grant the SIS wider powers to tap phones, hack computers, and spy on anyone they want. As a matter of general principle, you'd expect that the hearings and evidence will be open to the public, just like every other hearing on legislation. But you'd be wrong. The entire process will happen in secret. In effect, we are being shut out of our own legislature.

As Pablo at KiwiPolitico points out, there is no need for this secrecy. The hearings are not about the SIS's secret activities, but about what powers they should have.

What is being protected is not state secrets, not confidential material, or anything remotely connected to national security. The reason the hearings will be held behind closed doors is to conceal the lackey lock-step into which the committee will fall. It is about saving coalition face in an election year rather than addressing the serious concerns of intelligence service power-expansion. That shallow political PR calculation is the sole reason why these hearings will be held in secret.
This process is an affront to our democracy. Democracies do not make laws in secret. They make them in public, so that everyone can have confidence in the process and (more importantly) hold our representatives accountable for their decisions. Secrecy in a democracy fatally undermines legitimacy, just as it does in the judiciary. And given the nature of this bill, that is not something our democracy can afford to do.