Friday, June 28, 2013

Spying on journalists

So, it turns out that the Henry inquiry spied on Fairfax journalist Andrea Vance:

The journalist who was leaked a sensitive report on the nation's foreign spy network had her movements tracked by a government inquiry.

The MP forced to resign over the leak, Peter Dunne, said inquiry head David Henry detailed to him the movements of Fairfax journalist Andrea Vance in and out of the parliamentary precinct.

The conversation related to Vance's movements the day before the leaked report was published and appeared to be based on Henry having access to records of when she entered and left the building using her security swipe card.

The Prime Minister says it was nothing to do with him. So who authorised it? Because I can't imagine Parliamentary Services handing out this information without someone telling them to.

Meanwhile, it raises a host of deeply unpleasant questions. Was the Speaker consulted? If not, it seems like a prima facie breach of Parliamentary privilege. Do they spy on other journalists? Their backbenchers? The opposition? And most importantly, did they get GCSB to track Vance's movements outside Parliament using her cellphone? GCSB remember does not regard such spying using metadata as being outlawed by their legislation, and both Kitteridge and their "Inspector-General" basically gave a green light to doing so domesticly. And yet we've just had the perfect demonstration of how intrusive and powerful it is, and why it needs to be subject to judicial scrutiny and conduct only with a warrant: because otherwise, we're letting those in power spy on everything we do.

By spying on a journalist in Parliament, the Key government has once again abused our democracy. Journalists are not some interlopers in the parliamentary precinct, to be treated like burglars there to steal the family silver. They are a vital part of the democratic process, and their communications with politicians, whether government or opposition, ought to be given the highest degree of protection.

(Meanwhile, MPs are deeply concerned [PDF] about the thought that SIS and GCSB might be spying on them. They should spare a thought for the other components of our democracy too)