Wednesday, June 13, 2018

DoC covers up for corporate spies

Thompson and Clark Investigations, New Zealand's most evil private spy agency, is in the news again - this time for getting DoC to cover up official information for it:

The Department of Conservation (DOC) withheld official information after demands from security firm Thompson and Clark, internal emails show.

Thompson and Clark spied on anti-1080 activists for DOC, sharing intelligence through what it called its "Fusion Centre" - locked, hidden chat channels on messaging app Slack.

The work cost nearly $4000 a month - several government departments are signed up to similar packages - and also included a weekly phone briefing involving senior staff from both organisations.

But DOC withheld all material from the Slack channels when asked for correspondence between its staff and Thompson and Clark under the Official Information Act (OIA), saying releasing it "may prevent the supply of such information in the future".

Initially DoC had decided to release everything. They reversed that decision after a serious lobbying effort from Thompson and Clark. The decision has now gone to the Ombudsman, where it is almost certain to be overturned. Why? Because firstly the clause relied on - s9(2)(ba)(i) - requires that "it is in the public interest that such information should continue to be supplied" - something which is highly debatable given Thompson and Clark's corrosive effect on our democracy. But more importantly, "the intelligence shared through Slack was all publicly available, drawn from the Internet". And the Ombudsman's guidelines are quite clear that such information can not be regarded as "confidential":
No obligation of confidence will arise where the information is generally known or is readily available to the public, for example where it can be obtained in a public register or other document open to inspection by the public.

Which pretty obviously applies if its publicly available on a news media or other internet site.

So why is Thompson and Clark so desperate to keep this information secret? Partly its pure hostility to democratic oversight, but I suspect also to protect their lucrative government contracts. After all, if the public saw that public agencies were paying them $4,000 a month to read the newspaper, we'd quite rightly question whether that was value for money, whether it was really necessary, or whether it couldn't be done cheaper. And then Thompson and Clark's government gravy-train would end.