Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Gunpowder, treason and plot

Today is November 5, when we remember a famous terrorist as "the only man who entered Parliament with honest intent" by re-enacting his efforts in miniature in our own back-yards.

Its also the day John Key chose to announce new anti-terrorism powers for the SIS to break into people's homes without warrant, plant cameras in people's bedrooms, and take their passports away for up to three years - the latter potentially an extra-judicial sentence of exile.

The "justification"? Up to 40 people in New Zealand support ISIS, according to the SIS. 40 people. Oddly, Key didn't commit to his government arresting and prosecuting these people for violating existing anti-terror laws. Apparently that would be too hard. Instead, they're just used as a rhetorical prop for throwing our freedoms on the bonfire.

There is no need for this. It is already a crime to join ISIS, and it is already a crime to raise money for them. Those crimes can and should be dealt with by the police, who already have the necessary search powers to do it. They can already search people and vehicles without warrant for evidence of serious crimes, can conduct warrantless searches if they believe evidence of serious crime is about to be destroyed, and have emergency search and surveillance powers where there's an immediate threat to people's lives. Unlike the SIS, those powers are subject to judicial oversight, and exercised in a context which provides perspective on what is and is not an actual threat. And while the police have a dirty history of abuses, its nothing like that of the SIS.

Giving these sorts of powers to a bunch of professional paranoids who view everything as an existential threat (if only to the Prime Minister's poll-ratings and therefore their own budget) and see communiststerrorists under every bed will lead to gross abuses. Rather than that, we should leave this problem to the police and courts to deal with - like a democracy, not a dictatorship.