Monday, June 28, 2021

Spy cameras literally are

The Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security (IGIS) has released a report today on the SIS's use of closed circuit television. The report beings with the scary revelation that those spy cameras in our cities are literally just that:

As part of this review, I examined a particular example of the Service’s access to a CCTV network (the CCTV network) which has been provided to the Service by the network’s operator (the CCTV network provider). These cameras cover most of a New Zealand city centre. The Service has round-the-clock access to the CCTV network, which is accessed from a secure room within the Service’s premises.
It is unclear if this is the only system the SIS has access to, or whether it is one of many. As for how it obtained access, it was apparently under an MOU with the network's operator. This "agreement" (if there can ever be a valid agreement with a spy agency, given the power imbalances involved) was of course classified, the owner of the system was not allowed to retain a copy, and only three people there even knew about it. Which, given that the operator is almost certainly a local authority (and lets be honest, its almost certainly the Wellington City Council, based on where the spies are and who has cameras), this raises obvious questions of democratic legitimacy and consent. These are of course not considered by IGIS. But the IGIS does raise serious questions about the SIS's legal basis for access, and recommend they seek the advice of Crown Law on it.

There's other problems. The SIS's policy for use of the system is deficient, and downright wrong on expectations of privacy in public spaces (the "reasonable expectation of privacy" standard means that actually following someone's movements on camera for any prolonged period is a search, as is the use of zoom lenses. A search without a warrant or other legal authority is prima facie unreasonable, and a violation of the BORA right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure). Naturally, they never did a privacy impact assessment. And as usual, their record-keeping is a bit shit. The IGIS recommends that all of these problems be corrected. But despite all of that, they conclude that the SIS's use of this system is lawful, responsible, and proper.

But that's not good enough. When local authorities started putting cameras everywhere to manage traffic and ensure "public safety", they never suggested that they would be used by the SIS to spy on people. And if they had, I suspect public attitudes to these cameras would be very different. Its time for our local authorities (and other bodies such as NZTA) to come clean, and confess whether they allow the SIS to access their camera networks in this way. That would allow the people to judge whether it is acceptable, and hold them accountable if they feel it necessary. But I suspect that that prospect is precisely why the SIS has kept this secret for so long.