Tuesday, July 16, 2013

The same problems everywhere

One of the problems exposed by the GCSB's illegal spying is that their "watchdog" - the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security - is completely ineffective, having failed to detect the illegal spying for a decade, then excused it as it was "arguably" legal. Which is what happens when you have one old duffer, chosen specifically for his subservience to power, doing a part-time job.

It turns out we're not alone. The UK has a similar system: a small office, massively outnumbered and outgunned by the organisation it is supposed to "oversee". And it results in similar problems:

The Independent has established that the watchdog’s annual report had to be delayed and revised because the first draft made no mention of the hi-tech GCHQ spying programmes exposed by the US whistleblower.

The updated 2012 report of the Interception of Communications Commissioner Office (ICCO) will now be published later this month, after hastily organised revisions were ordered by Whitehall officials.


[T]he small ICCO office based in Whitehall’s Queen Anne’s Gate headed by the retired appeal court judge Sir Anthony May, currently has less than 10 full-time staff to carry out its statutory duty of reviewing the interception activity of the UK spy agencies, the Metropolitan Police, HM Revenue and Customs, the Foreign Office, the Home Office and Ministry of Defence.

In previous ICCO reports, two annual one-day inspections at GCHQ – where only a tiny sample of interception warrants are inspected – provide the basis for the conclusion that the intelligence agency conducts itself with high levels of integrity and legal compliance. Similar biannual inspection visits also take place at MI5 and MI6. How samples are selected, and whether or not Sir Anthony is presented with interception case notes chosen in advance by agencies like GCHQ, is not disclosed.

Understaffed "watchdog" fails to detect unlawful activity! Who'd have thunk it! But the point of such organisations isn't actually to oversee and ensure compliance - it is to build public confidence by creating the illusion of such. They're a sham for the institutional abuse of power, nothing more. They need to either be beefed up, so they can actually do the job they tell us they're doing, or dissolved, to remove the institutional lie.

(As for the "reforms" to the NZ IGSI in Key's spy bill, they're better than nothing, but still not enough for the task. I'll believe in such watchdogs when they show they can bark. Ours never has, and never will).