Monday, January 30, 2023

More bad faith from the spies

In November last year, the SIS agreed to pay journalist Nicky Hager $66,000 for illegally spying on him. As part of the settlement, they agreed to publish an agreed statement about the settlement on their website. But two weeks later, it was gone. The New Zealand Council for Civil Liberties used FYI, the public OIA request site, in an effort to find out why. The reason? The SIS's general counsel - who had presumably defended the SIS's indefensible actions and negotiated the settlement when it was clear that they would lose - asked for it to be removed "as that story has passed".

This is not the action of an agency which accepts and owns its mistakes and wants to do better. Instead, it is the action of an agency which refuses to accept it has done anything wrong, and seeks to bury the evidence of its misbehaviour. Its a sign that the SIS has no intention of changing its practices. That they are perpetual recidivists who cannot ever be reformed. Which means that if we want our democracy to be safe from them, we have to destroy them: defund them, disband them, reduce them to a rump protective security / security clearance agency.

Meanwhile, I guess the lesson for the future is that you should always take the SIS to trial. Because any "settlement" from them will simply be an exercise in bad faith.

Friday, January 27, 2023

A significant loophole

In case you hadn't noticed, FYI, the public OIA request site, has been used to conduct a significant excavation into New Zealand's intelligence agencies, with requests made for assorted policies and procedures. Yesterday in response to one of these requests the GCSB released its policy on New Zealand Purpose and Nationality - basicly what it does to ensure that it complies with the requirement that it obtain a Type 1 intelligence warrant before spying on New Zealanders. The policy itself seems reasonably robust - if it is unclear whether someone is a New Zealander, they seem to apply a "reasonable grounds to suspect" standard, which at face value seems appropriately cautious. But there's a twist:

Only people are New Zealanders. Companies, organisations, vessels, aircrafts, and other vehicles cannot be New Zealand persons. Therefore, if the purpose of an activity does not include collecting information about a New Zealand person, a Type 1 warrant is not required.

This is due to the way s53 of the Intelligence and Security Act is phrased, referring only to NZ citizens and permanent residents (that is, natural rather than legal persons). But it seems to be a loophole, resulting in a lower standard of oversight for spying on organisations (basicly, they only need approval from the (captive) Minister, rather than from the independent Commissioner of security warrants). And the fact that it is being explicitly pointed out in the policy suggests that the spies encourage its use.

What sorts of spying might be covered by this loophole? Spying on NGOs, unions, political parties, and companies. Tracking ships and aircraft, if the purpose isn't to spy on a specific, known New Zealander. Depending on how creative the GCSB's lawyers are - and in the absence of outside scrutiny, they can be very creative indeed - it may even extend to tracking cars. And while some forms of spying on an organisation may be difficult to do without also spying on a person, there are forms which seem eminently do-able. Spying on financial transactions. Hacking its computers and looting its files. Classic black-bag jobs. If the SIS wants to, say, steal Te Pāti Māori's membership list, the law doesn't seem to require a Type 1 warrant. And that seems... dangerous. Because one of the reasons we require external, independent oversight of spying on kiwis (rather than just the rubberstamp of a captive Minister) is to protect our political and democratic rights. But those rights are not just exercised individually, but also collectively, through groups like NGOs, unions, and political parties. And spying on those organisations can be just as dangerous to our democratic rights as spying on individuals.

More generally, we have a two-tier system where spying on New Zealanders requires a higher degree of oversight than spying on foreign governments and terrorist organisations. And it just doesn't seem appropriate that NZ-based organisations are lumped in the second category rather than the first. Not does it seem appropriate to effectively allow the Minister to authorise spying on their political opponents with no independent oversight.

Fortunately, there's an easy fix for this: add a reference to New Zealand organisations (with an appropriate definition) to s53 of the Intelligence and Security Act 2017. And if the spies or the government doesn't want to do that, well, we can draw our own conclusions about what they've been up to.

Let the farmers pay for their own poor decisions

South Islands farmers are whining about another drought, the third in three years. If only we knew what was causing this! If only someone had warned them that they faced a drying climate!

But we do know what is causing it: climate change. And they have been warned, repeatedly, for more than 20 years. They've chosen to ignore those warnings, pretending they can continue to pollute and escape the consequences by lobbying and whining. Well, the consequences are here, and politicians cannot make them go away. Ignoring those warnings looks like an increasingly poor business decision. And the 85% of us who live in cities will be asking why we should bail out farmers (again) for the consequences of their own actions, or when they steadfastly refuse to adapt to a changing world. Normal businesses which make poor decisions go bankrupt. Its time we let the same happen to farmers.

Wednesday, January 25, 2023

National goes back to Brash

In 2005, then-National Party leader based his entire election campaign on racism, with his infamous racist Orewa speech and racist iwi/kiwi billboards. Now, Christopher Luxon seems to want to do it all again:

Fresh off using his platform at this week's Rātana celebrations to criticise the government's approach to co-governance with Māori, National Party leader Christopher Luxon is taking aim at Parliament's Māori seats.

But despite saying their existence "doesn't make a lot of sense", National will still be looking at standing candidates in "at least one or two of them".

Its like National can't help themselves. Every time you think they've grown a conscience and reognised that racism is wrong (as they did briefly under Key), they return to type. Which suggests that their racism is foundational to the party.

Luxon is hiding his racism behind "one person, one vote". Quite apart from the facts that voters in Māori electorates have exactly the same voting power as those in general electorates, there is an obviously bigger target here: the ratepayer role, which allows landlords to vote in every local authority in which they own a house. But weirdly, Luxon doesn't seem to have a problem with that, despite it being a much greater distortion of our democracy. But maybe that's because he owns seven houses...

Tuesday, January 24, 2023

Wage rises, not tax cuts

NewsHub has a poll on the cost-of-living crisis, which has an interesting finding: the vast majority of kiwis prefer wage rises to tax cuts:

When asked whether income has kept up with the cost of living, 54.8 percent of people surveyed said no and according to 58.6 percent of people, groceries were the main concern.

To help with costs, 61.2 percent suggested increasing wages and just 15.9 percent wanted tax cuts.

Which makes perfect sense. Tax cuts primarily benefit the rich, delivering very little to real people (notoriously, a block of cheese a week). And they do that at the cost of gutting the public services and public infrastructure we all depend on. Even a moderate wage rise delivers far more money to those on median incomes. And if you have a union, and get the sort of wage rise collective bargaining can deliver, its even better. And it all comes directly out of rich people, without gutting public services.

So how can the government deliver this? Constantly increasing the minimum wage to ratchet up everything else is one way. Enabling unions to do their job and fight for better wages and conditions is another. And Labour's new Fair Pay Agreements are a third. If you work in a supermarket, or hospitality, or as a bus driver, cleaner, or security guard, then things are likely to get better (and hopefully other industries are lining up as well).

Note that all of these things are under threat from ACT-National: if they get elected, they'll stop increasing the minimum wage, suppress unions, and abolish fair pay agreements, effectively cancelling wage rises for hundreds of thousands of kiwis. Instead, they'll let your local roads and schools and hospitals rot, so they can give money to their rich donors as tax cuts. That gives the rich a big return on their investment, but it fucks over everyone else. But that is basicly what National is all about, isn't it?

Thursday, January 19, 2023

An amazing disappointment

Jacinda Ardern's shock resignation announcement today has left a lot of us with a lot of complicated feelings. In my case, while I've been highly critical of Ardern's government, I'm still sorry to see her go. We've had far too many terrible things happen during her term as Prime Minister - Christchurch, Covid - and on each occasion she rose to the challenge and tried to bring out the best in us. What damns her is her broken promises and lack of ambition, on climate change - which she promised to treat as "my generation's nuclear free moment" - and on equality. Her unpardonable strategic silence on cannabis legalisation. The way she has simply squandered the absolute majority she won with technocratic tinkering, rather than bedding in real change. And of course her great betrayal on covid, where (having caught it herself) she just... gave up, and let it sweep the country (and is still letting it sweep the country). As a Prime Minister she has been amazing, and an amazing disappointment, promising change, and delivering so little of it.

And on the gripping hand: I cannot blame or fault anyone for recognising that they don't have it in them anymore, that there are things more important than politics, and for getting out of the job before it ruins them.

If anyone is looking for a positive side, there's this: Ardern ruled out a capital gains tax "under my leadership". Well, she's gone, and so a capital gains tax is back on the table. The question is, will Labour seize the opportunity, and take the popular step of taxing the rich on their unearned wealth? Or will they chickenshit out again to protect their own house-hoards? And if they do the latter, why should anybody bother voting for them?

Are the police following the law on DNA?

Back in November, Newsroom reported that the police were racist in their collection of DNA samples from young people. The report came on the back of widespread police racism, illegality, and abuse of privacy in their policy of photographing and fingerprinting Māori youth.

When I blogged about this, I highlighted another issue: removals. Various provisions of the Criminal Investigations (Bodily Samples) Act 1995 require samples to be removed from the databank. Section 36 requires samples taken by "consent" from people to be destroyed if the consent is withdrawn (unless the police get a court order). Section 26A requires samples taken from young people effectively convicted of an offence to be destroyed if the person is not convicted of further offences within four or ten years. Section 26B allows samples from young people to be removed by application, under similar conditions. The latter two sections were passed in 2009 and 2010, so samples should have been being removed from the databank for nine years now. So have they been? back in November, I lodged an OIA request with police asking for statistics on removals under these sections, as well as a copy of their procedure for doing so. The police ignored it. Today, presumably after being contacted by the Ombudsman, they finally replied, stating that the information was not held. In other words, they have no statistics, and they have no procedure.

No statistics could just be the usual appalling police record-keeping, but its almost certainly a violation of the Public Records Act. Having no procedure OTOH is absolutely damning. It strongly suggests that the police are not complying with the requirements of the Criminal Investigations (Bodily Samples) Act 1995 around removing samples, and possibly that they have never complied with them. Someone needs to be asking Chris Hipkins pointy questions about this, and the IPCA and Privacy Commissioner need to investigate (and issue a compliance notice if necessary). As with the requirements around photographs and fingerprints (and warrants and production orders), Parliament passed these provisions for a reason. And its not acceptable for the police to ignore the law simply because they don't like it or can't be bothered.

Wednesday, January 18, 2023

The rich are trying to buy the election

The Herald this morning reports on the rich's efforts to buy this year's election. And you'll never guess who their chosen vehicle is:

The National Party may start election year with a $2.3 million war chest raised from 24 big donors in 2022, while Labour has declared just $150,000 in large donations, according to Electoral Commission records.

The disparity has seen National raise more money from large donors in one year than Labour has raised in nearly a decade.

Most of National’s funds are thanks to a fundraising blitz from former deputy leader Paula Bennett who tapped richlisters, including New Zealand’s wealthiest man, for as much as $250,000 each last year. It is not clear how much of this funding was spent in 2022, and how much has been put aside for campaigning this year.

So we have a tiny elite throwing huge amounts of money around in an explicit attempt to subvert the democratic process and buy themselves power. Which you'd think is the sort of thing our electoral laws ought to prohibit...

The obvious question is what National has promised them in exchange for all this money. Because nobody forks over quarter of a million dollars for nothing. Especially a rich person.

But what really bites is that this is the last time we'll have such easy access to these figures. Because just before the holidays, Labour changed the law to make large donations less transparent. Where previously parties have been forced to declare them within ten working days of receipt, we'll now only get that level of disclosure in an election year (and then only up until polling day). Donations outside of that period - like the $2.3 million given to National reported on above - will only have to be declared annually. Which makes it much harder to link donations to policies (which was the point of rapid disclosure).

The public understands that there is too much money in politics, and the people providing it are getting something in exchange. Lower donation thresholds and real-time disclosure - the obvious methods to try and limit this - are overwhelmingly popular. And once again, the big parties effectively conspired with each other to write the law to suit themselves and cut us out. Just like they always do. And then they wonder why an increasing proportion of the public views them as institutionally corrupt? Maybe they should look in the mirror for once.

Democracy means one person, one vote, and all votes are equal. Money subverts this. We need to cut the rich out and level the playing field between citizens again. Which means not just transparency, but public funding, a ban on corporate donations, and a cap on individual ones. And actually jailing people who try and subvert our democracy, rather than looking the other way.

Tuesday, January 17, 2023

Climate Change: A successful policy

The Herald has an annual roundup of electric vehicle stats this morning, and it shows us that the government's clean-car-discount - which sees buyers of dirty vehicles pay to subsidies purchases of clean ones - has been a hugely successful policy:

New Zealand broke two records for electric vehicles in the month of December, capping off a year of surging demand for clean cars.


The policy is so successful at driving the uptake of EVs and suppressing the uptake of petrol vehicles, the Government may have to rethink the level of discounts and fees - lowering one or raising the other.

In December 2022, just over 20 per cent of all new vehicles were fully battery-electric, a record.

The same month over a quarter of new passenger cars, a category that excludes vans and utes, were fully battery electric - also a record.

And its only just getting going. Now we have a clean car standard backing it up, forcing vehicle importers to import cleaner vehicles (on average) every year, which will further push the market towards low emissions options. We can do more - we really need a cutoff date for fossil imports and a later one for registrations, plus a scrappage fee and tailpipe emissions limits to take the dirtiest vehicles off the roads for good, and public transport and urban form improvements to make cars unnecessary - but we're clearly now on the path we need to be on to eliminate small vehicle transport emissions (trucks will longer). We just have to keep doing it.

So naturally National - which has always been opposed to climate action - wants to stop, seeing it as a cost rather than a long-term benefit. But if they're worried about short-term costs, there are two very obvious solutions. The first is to charge ute buyers even more, which would have the added bonus of further incentivising the shift away from these dirty, unsafe vehicles. The other is to use ETS revenue to meet any shortfall, effectively spreading the cost across all petrol and diesel users (so the polluters pay for the cleanup again). If National opposes such measures, they need to be asked how exactly they plan to reduce transport emissions to meet our climate change goals and ensure a liveable planet for their children. But I doubt they have any answer to that.

Westminster means hate

When England was an empire, it used colonialism to spread bigotry and hate, leaving a legacy of homophobic legislation around the world. And now, they're using colonialism to force bigotry and hate on Scotland, by vetoing Scotland's gender recognition law:

Rishi Sunak’s government has blocked legislation passed by the Scottish parliament that would make Scotland the first part of the UK to introduce a self-identification system for people who want to change gender.

The Scottish secretary, Alister Jack, announced that he would use section 35 of the Scotland Act 1998 for the first time to halt the gender recognition bill after a review by UK government lawyers.

This is a Scottish law for Scottish people, and nothing to do with England. It was passed overwhelmingly by the elected Scottish Parliament, which is meant to be able to pass such laws. And its being vetoed by an English government trying to appeal to English voters by running a transphobic hate campaign. Its an affront to both basic decency, and to the promise of Scottish devolution. Its an explicit attack on Scottish democracy, and the right of Scots to govern themselves.

Fortunately there's a solution for the latter. The only way Scotland will be free of English bigotry is independence. Leave Westminster to fester in its own hate. Scotland should make its own future, away from those terf arseholes.

Friday, January 13, 2023

ANPR should require a warrant

On Tuesday, the Herald broke the news of a massive increase in ANPR surveillance by police, from mere dozens of uses in 2020 to thousands in 2022, and that police had lied in their internal documentation when they said the system was audited to ensure use was legal. And today it got worse, because it seems that the police are deliberately circumventing warrant requirements for these searches, by pretending real-time surveillance is "historic":

No warrant is required by police searching for number plates captured by CCTV surveillance networks, even when the vehicles are snapped at the time of the search or seconds before.

Inquiries by the Herald have confirmed that the police definition of a “historic” search - and so not needing a warrant - includes number plates “captured at, or very close to, the time of the query being made”.


The “real-time” option requires police to seek a surveillance warrant from a judge or a forward-looking production order from a senior officer, to whom officers have to justify the crime being investigated warrants the breach of privacy involved.

OIA data showed police were able to access the vGRID system in June this year and had logged 119 specific “plates of interest” on which to receive “real-time” alerts. In the same period, police made 43,758 “historic” searches.

And this is only one of two systems, so the problem is clearly much bigger. And it makes you wonder whether they're applying the same workaround to things like text messages or emails (the interception of which in real time requires a surveillance warrant, but "historic" data - literally the moment after they are sent or received - does not).

But the core problem here is that the police treat this highly invasive form of surveillance - in which people can be tracked in real-time, their past movements traced, and a picture of their life pattern built up - as a private question between them and their (highly cooperative, promoted by police) partners. They talk of information being provided "by consent", but its the "consent" of the surveillance capitalists, not of the people they are tracking. And this partnership and "consent" is clearly being used to sidestep legal limits on surveillance which exist to protect our right to go about our business unmolested.

This isn't good enough. This surveillance needs to be regulated. Ideally, I'd like to see private use of ANPR (and facial recognition) banned. But at a minimum, any police or state access to such information must require a warrant and probable cause. And for proper law enforcement use - rather than gratuitous snooping - it should be no burden at all for police to give a reason to a judge why they need this information.

Wednesday, January 11, 2023

Climate Change: End pollution subsidies now!

Stuff reports that Tasman Steel - the latest name for what used to be NZ Steel - made a $340 million profit last year. The kicker? $117 million of that was from government pollution subsidies:

New Zealand Steel’s holding company Tasman Steel increased its profit by 153% to a bumper $340 million in the year to June while receiving free carbon credits worth $117m from the Government, according to accounts filed with the Companies Office.

The Government provides carbon credits to other large industrial emitters that compete with overseas firms and the steel business’ chief executive, Robin Davies, said they essentially “neutralised” carbon costs that were passed through to the company in its electricity bills.

...which means they face no real incentive to reduce their emissions.

As the article notes, the "justification" for this subsidy is that Tasman - one of our biggest polluters - might shut down and be replaced by dirtier production overseas. The latter is simply false - Glenbrook is one of the dirtiest steel mills on the planet, producing 2.5 tons of carbon per ton of steel versus the global average of 2 tons. So shutting it down would almost certainly result in a net gain for the planet. But also, does anyone really think they'd pull the plug if they were making only $220 million a year rather than $340 million? If they merely made the same outrageous profit they made last year? Really?

These pollution subsidies are unjustifiable. They must be ended immediately. And if this causes big polluters like Glenbrook to shut down and fuck off, so much the better.

Monday, January 09, 2023

This is what the right stands for now

Two years ago, supporters of failed presidential candidate Donald Trump stormed the US Capitol in an attempt to overthrow America's democracy and overturn the results of an election they had lost. And today, just a few days after the anniversary of that event, supporters of Trump's ally Jair Bolsonaro did the same in Brazil. Fortunately they also failed. But the mere act of doing it - of challenging the peaceful, democratic transfer of power with violence - destabilises democracy. And it encourages future attempts, which may not fail. And not just in America and Brazil - these countries are now exporting their anti-democratic instability to the world.

When Trump and Bolsonaro were in office, they were wholeheartedly embraced by mainstream right-wing parties in other countries - including in Aotearoa. Former National Party leader John Key says he would have voted for both (and this was after Trump's riot). And Key isn't alone in that. Key honestly attributes that to right-wing tribalism, but that's actually the problem here: the refusal to look past partisan affiliation and say "actually, this guy is anti-democratic, an actual fascist, I don't support that".

If you lie down with dogs, you get up with fleas. The natural conclusion about the right-wing parties around the world who embraced Trump as a leader and Bolsonaro as an ally is that they support the same things - not just inequality and bigotry, but insurrection and the violent overthrow of democracy (the latter is sadly a reversion to historical type). That's basicly what the right stands for now, until they prove otherwise.