GCSB (“rogue agency”) needs strong oversight

Yesterday Parliament had an urgent debate on the current issues surrounding the GCSB after the release of the Kitteridge report. Much of the debate was political huffing and puffing with attempts at point scoring – especially from Grant Robertson – and defence of the Government by Bill English.

Russel Norman also did some political and paranoiac posturing but he also raised important points about oversight of the GCSB – or more pointedly, lack of oversight. He pointed the finger at both the present (National led) and previous (Labour led) governments.

So the National Party voted for the legislation as well as the Labour Party, which pushed it through, even though the Green Party at the time warned that if you set up spying agencies that do not have oversight, they will abuse their rights. And it has become so.

And that has enabled a “rogue agency” to continue to operate with grossly inadequate legal resources oversight:

The truth is, of course, that the Government Communications Security Bureau sees itself as ultimately answerable to the US spy agencies, and that is the problem; it is that the Government Communications Security Bureau is a rogue agency.

It does not report to anybody.

The Prime Minister does not know what is going on at the Government Communications Security Bureau, as the report illustrates. The Government Communications Security Bureau acts illegally, as the report illustrates—that is, as I think Bill English was just saying, it did not pay very close attention to its compliance with the law, to put it mildly; it acted illegally.

As the Kitteridge Report highlights, there have been serious problems.

It is an agency that does not really have any parliamentary oversight.

There is no parliamentary committee that looks over the intelligence services. There is the Intelligence and Security Committee, but it does not have any power to see what the Government Communications Security Bureau is doing.

There is the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security, who has a woeful record of not providing any proper oversight of what the SIS and the Government Communications Security Bureau are up to, and it means that the Government Communications Security Bureau and the SIS are free to do as they want.

I very much doubt they are “free to do as they want” but there does seem to be serious deficiiencies in oversight and accountability.

There is only one democratically elected official who has oversight over the securities agencies, and that is the Prime Minister.

That’s not good enough.

If we are to have these kinds of draconian, authoritarian, dictatorial powers in the hands of a State agency that breach the highest levels of our rights and our freedoms, then there needs to be very strong oversight and very powerful justification for any agency to exercise these kinds of powers. There needs to be very strong oversight.

There’s a strong case for much stronger oversight than there has been.

It seems to me that if we are to protect freedom and democracy in our society, we have to keep the spy agencies in check in order to protect those fundamental rights and freedoms.

The present Government has clearly failed to do that, and, based on this report, it clearly appears that the previous Government failed to do that—to keep the spy agencies in check.

The Green Party will keep pushing to make sure that happens.

Labour are too engrossed in trying to bring down John Key and bring down the Government. They are more intent on selfish ambitions and this distracts from the most important aspects of the lack of oversight.

Gotcha politics gets in the way of addressing the important issues.

The focus should be on establishing much better oversight of our spy agencies, and better defining what they are doing. We need them, but we need to be able to trust them to act in the interests of the country – but within the laws of the country.

If the Greens push aside the political bull and push for positive change on oversight of GCSB and NZSIS they deserve all the support they can get.

And today’s NZ Herald editorial points out the same thing:

The bureau’s transgressions were the product of confusion arising from the 2003 GCSB Act, the sole source of authority and law within the agency. Its shortcomings were magnified by failures of oversight by successive GCSB directors, Inspectors-General of Security and Intelligence, and prime ministers Helen Clark and John Key.

It will, she suggests, take a year and a solid effort to address the culture at the bureau. It should take far less time for the Government to clarify the GCSB Act and address the failings of oversight. Anything less is untenable.

InTheHouse video of Norman’s speech: Urgent Debate – Release of report on the Government Communications Security Bureau – Part 3

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