Who cares about illegal snooping?

I saw something on this earlier in the week but have had trouble finding anything on it now. After some digging:

Stuff on Tuesday: SIS criticised by government watchdog over ‘unlawfully accessing’ information

The Security Intelligence Service unlawfully accessed information obtained by border security agencies to keep tabs on people entering the country, the country’s security watchdog says.

While the activity is historic, the domestic spy agency comes under fire from Inspector General of Intelligence and Security Cheryl Gwyn, not just over the way it accessed the material but for dragging its feet in responding to her inquiry.

Gwyn reveals discussions stemming back several years relating to information collected by customs and immigration under the Customs and Excise and Immigration acts.

SIS director general Rebecca Kitteridge says the information related to people entering New Zealand  – information that is critical for the work done by the agency.

She blames the criticisms on out of date legislation that has since been updated to make clear that the information can be accessed.

But Gwyn’s criticism raises questions about what should be done with the information obtained by the SIS during the period in question – up till mid 2016. It covers information collected over a period of several years, presumably relating to people who might pose a risk to national security.

In her annual report, released Tuesday, Gwyn says that information was accessed unlawfully by the SIS.  The SIS does not agree it acted unlawfully, however, Gwyn acknowledged. Her full report will be issued as earlier as this week.

She is highly critical of the agency, blaming the “excessive time frame” to complete her final report in part on the delay getting legal advice, but also the fact it was “difficult” getting a “comprehensive and fully reasoned” response from the agency to her initial findings.

“I found the agency was reluctant to engage with my office on the substantive issues. I also observe that while the Service is entitled to have a different view from me on the lawfulness of given activities, whenever lawfulness is in question it should be proactive in obtaining independent legal advice on the specific point.

“Ultimately in this matter the Service advised me of its final view as to the lawfulness of some of its access to information under the Customs and Excise Act as late as August 2017. On that I have a different view, as set out in the review report. I have not been able to satisfactorily resolve with the Service the residual question whether NZSIS can lawfully treat immigration information collected by it previously as if it had been collected under the Direct Access Agreement with Immigration that is now in place.

“Overall, this is an unsatisfactory position. I reiterate the view I expressed in last year’s annual report – to ensure it operates lawfully, the NZSIS must be able to deal with such issues in a much more timely way. ”

Gwyn is also critical of SIS being reluctant to disclose its own internal legal advice, a  factor that “impeded” her ability to do her work.

DomPost editorial via Stuff:  Watchdog bites the SIS for acting illegally

Gwyn is right to call the spies out on this matter and to alert the public to their unlawful activities and their apparent reluctance to face the music. This suggests that certain old habits persist even after Kitteridge herself took over at SIS.

Just what all this means remains somewhat unclear, although Gwyn says she intends to publish a report on the whole business before the end of the year. That might throw more light on the matter.

None of this would have become public knowledge without the diligent and persistent work of the Inspector-General. In effect she is the public’s only real watchdog over the spies. Parliament’s Intelligence Committee lacks her power; the politicians who act as the ministerial overseers of the services habitually become captive to them and have never told the public anything of use.

Democratic society owes Gwyn a debt of gratitude.

But democratic society in New Zealand doesn’t seem to care much about this.




Leave a comment


  1. NOEL

     /  15th December 2017

    Had to smile when I got to the bit about accessing Customs data.
    Now what was all that information I wrote on all those departure and arrival forms over the years? Gee I’m really worried.

  2. Corky

     /  15th December 2017

    In reality Gwen is a paper tiger. The SIS is a law unto itself provided they don’t get caught. I had a huge argument with a health official once who said their data base was secure and his organisation would never allow illegal access. I told him he was dreaming, and the SIS could access it either legally or illegally. He called me a conspiracy theorist.

    ‘But democratic society in New Zealand doesn’t seem to care much about this.”

    Like the health official above, what’s not in front of their noses doesn’t exist.

  3. I couldn’t give a you know what. Spies spy. Isn’t that the flipping point

  4. Blazer

     /  15th December 2017

    NZ’s version of the Stasi was so easily foistered upon its citizens,with the ‘nothing to hide,nothing to..fear’…rationale.The GCSB and the S.I.S prove time and again the law is no barrier to them doing exactly what they..want.Who benefits from all this ..spying…business ..of course.

    • Pickled Possum

       /  15th December 2017

      The lifespan of any large technology system (and few systems are larger than surveillance systems) is invariably longer than that of a government. No matter how well-meaning the policy-makers are when embarking on a new interception policy, if their successors do not share their moral stance, then the powers and the data can be reused for very different and very dangerous purposes.

      Perhaps the most cutting argument against “nothing to hide” is a quotation by Cardinal Richelieu, a man who understood the power of fear all too well: “Give me six lines written by the most honest man and I will find in them something to hang him.” That is something to fear, indeed.

      Cardinal Armand Jean du Plessis was his real name,
      wonder if Heather is related. 😎

      • phantom snowflake

         /  15th December 2017

        Maybe just my imagination but to my eye John Key looked embarrassed as he mouthed “If you’ve got nothing to hide, you’ve got nothing to fear” (or some similar reworking of the Joseph Goebbels original.) He was just reading his lines, I know, but in that moment his usually polished acting skills seemed to desert him.

        • Pickled Possum

           /  15th December 2017

          Nothing to Hide
          Nothing to fear

          Cardinal Richelieu also known as Armand Jean du Plessis
          Born 9 September 1585
          Died 4 December 1642 (aged 57)
          Paris, Île-de-France, France, He is originator of the quote

          Upton Sinclair used an inverted version in 1918 in The Profits of Religion:
          An Essay in Economic Interpretation.

          Joseph Goebbels used the quote in 1933

          Pius Thicknesse in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows used it also.

          John Key used the quote in 2013 since then Everybody uses it.

  5. George

     /  15th December 2017

    Hopefully their best endeavors will leave us just reading about terrorist attacks in other countries.
    One slip up and it’ll be “Why didn’t you do something”???????
    And the answer will be “Well, sorry but you limited our ability by those laws you passed”

  6. George

     /  15th December 2017

    The terrorists only have to get it right once.
    What ever passes for security has to get it right every time.
    Notice how some of the nutters are on a ‘watch list’ ?
    Should have been a deportation list

  7. Reply
  8. NOEL

     /  15th December 2017

    Aw gee SIS accessed a Customs computer terminal which contained information on passenger movements. Shit the most intrusive declaration is the US ESTER demanded by the US and you have to pay for it and no one complains..

  9. NOEL

     /  15th December 2017

    More reading for the ill informed

    Click to access dpmc-nss-handbook-aug-2016.pdf

  10. Alan Wilkinson

     /  15th December 2017

    Seems her main complaint was the lack of prompt legal response to her investigation. Making a small mound out of a molehill?


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