Security versus privacy

The review of our spy agencies the GCSB and the SIS has reignited the security versus privacy issue.

Ideally we need to find a way of improving security, which requires some surveillance, while strengthening the protection of personal privacy. We should be targeting simpler clearer laws, possibly with some greater powers but with greater transparency and much better independent and political oversight.

A number of related reports:

Jane Patterson at Radio NZ: Security v privacy: A balancing act

A review of New Zealand’s intelligence agencies has found the laws governing the Security Intelligence Service (SIS) and the Government Security Communications Bureau (GCSB) are clunky, inconsistent and preventing those agencies from properly carrying out their jobs.

The challenge confronting lawmakers, past and present, is how to balance citizens’ rights to living in a safe and secure country, against their rights to privacy.

She concludes:

The review has attempted to balance the rights of security against privacy by proposing stronger oversight and warranting provisions.

It is now up to the politicians to strike that balance in line with the expectations of the New Zealand public.

A look at our chief security overseer at Stuff: National Portrait: Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security Cheryl Gwyn

Gwyn is the official spy watchdog, and she bites.

Gwyn has begun a series of inquiries which ask dangerous questions about both the SIS and the other intelligence agency, the GCSB.

Did the GCSB use its powers to help former Trade Minister Tim Groser in his (unsuccessful) bid to become head of the World Trade Organisation?

Were New Zealand spies involved with the CIA’s torture of prisoners between September 2001 and January 2009?

Does the GCSB snoop on the communications of New Zealanders working or holidaying in the South Pacific?

This could be a breach of the law preventing the GCSB from bugging New Zealand citizens or permanent residents. It was the bureau’s illegal bugging of permanent resident Kim Dotcom that lit a firestorm under the GCSB.

Claire Trevett on Michael Cullen and the review: The ex-politician who came in from the cold

Cullen proved the perfect man to front the report for the Government. His own lengthy tenure as Deputy Prime Minister and Attorney-General meant he was well aware of the type of information the intelligence agencies provide, and the importance of that information for a government.

He told the spy agencies to up their game when it came to public relations if they wanted to reduce public scepticism about their role. He then proceeded to do that PR for them, running through a list of threats to New Zealand from domestic attacks to cybercrimes. He spoke of whether the GCSB could help if a New Zealander was lost at sea or taken hostage – hypothetical situations but based on actual risks New Zealand had faced.

That it also makes it harder for Labour to quibble with the recommendations put forward is almost the only the cherry on the top.

If we are to achieve better security and better privacy it’s essential for both National and Labour to work together on this without partisan sniping. They will both at times be in the most responsible position for providing security for the country and protection of us, the citizens.

Leave a comment


  1. Alan Wilkinson

     /  12th March 2016

    Independent monitoring and oversight seems the critical factor to me.

    • Dogbreath

       /  12th March 2016

      Could you give ideas on what independent looks like compared to the recommendations. I presume there will be a public submission process so it would be good for debate in this area and if a consensus forms out of the debate someone could take those views to the submissions committee especially if they know they have significant support behind the ideas.

      • Alan Wilkinson

         /  12th March 2016

        I haven’t read the report so can’t compare. But for me independent means independent of the Executive and Parliament as well as having a direct audit and monitoring capability and reporting functions and responsibility both public and to the Executive.

  2. Oliver

     /  12th March 2016

    Heres an Idea. How about a private spy agency that can protect you from state spying. If you feel you maybe spied on then you could hire private spys to do counter suvriellance and deciption to counter state spying efforts. It could be a good little money earner.

    • Alan Wilkinson

       /  12th March 2016

      Yes, there is definitely a business opportunity there, Oliver. You would need to be pretty careful about choosing your clients though. Finding out later they were crooks or terrorists would not be a life-enhancing discovery.

    • Oliver

       /  12th March 2016

      If you look the pass spying it appears that most of the targets have been political opponents, unions, activists, minority groups. Not necessarily terrorists. And spy don’t spy on crooks, that’s what the police a for.

  3. Gezza

     /  12th March 2016

    I’d like to see the Inspector General of Intelligence & Security have the power to order security agencies to stop spying where they’re doing so in breach of the law. At the moment he/she can’t and I’m not sure who can.

  4. Kitty Catkin

     /  12th March 2016

    I may be wrong, but I thought that the surveillance was programmed to pick up certain words like, let’s say for argument’s sake, bomb and assassination. If the words were found to be in sentences like ‘ My first car was a real old bomb.’ and “That amounts to character assassination !’ it would go no further.


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