Tuesday, May 08, 2018

There's a lesson here

When then Prime Minister John Key rammed the Countering Terrorist Fighters Legislation Bill through Parliament, he whipped up fear and presented the new powers it contained as vital to the security of the New Zealand public. Only giving the SIS warrantless and video surveillance powers immediately would prevent a terrorist bloodbath! This spy fearmongering was used to justify suspending normal parliamentary procedure and ramming the bill through under urgency after a select committee process so abbreviated that MP's had no time to even read the submissions of people who engaged with it in good faith.

But it turns out that it wasn't that serious after all. Because when the new powers expired due to a drafting oversight in the replacement Intelligence and Security Act, the government didn't feel a need to legislate immediately to replace them:

A law-making bungle deprived our spies of a key weapon against terrorism in the wake of classified briefings warning of "an increasingly complex and escalating threat environment" in New Zealand.

NZ Security Intelligence Service documents revealed the blunder left our spies unable to use video surveillance tools to watch terrorism suspects in their cars, homes or workplaces for six months last year.


Kitteridge revealed the hole in the law to former NZSIS minister Chris Finlayson last year. In a memo on June 30, she said "the NZSIS no longer had the power to apply for a visual surveillance warrant" or to use emergency power to act without a warrant in emergencies.

The memo said warrants to allow visual surveillance were to "detect, investigate or prevent a terrorist act".

But she said the NZSIS was unable to do so for six months after the old law expired on April 1 2017 because the new Intelligence and Security Act did not apply until September 28 2017.

In a handwritten note, Finlayson told Kitteridge: "You will not be seeking a legislative solution AT ALL. Don't even bother asking."

If the SIS could live without these powers for six months, it suggests at the least that there was no case for urgency, and possibly no case for the powers at all (DPMC certainly didn't bother to make one in their shoddy and unprofessional Regulatory Impact Analysis). There's a lesson here both for future attempts to expand spy powers, and for abuse of urgency, and it is one we should heed. Our spies are power grabbing liars, who use fear to boost both their powers and their budgets. And this is not behaviour we should tolerate.