Left versus right proposing surveillance powers

I’m not sure that a ‘non-partisan’ group set up by Jordan Williams for surveillance of surveillance would be embraced across the spectrum, especially when suggesting it he also takes a swipe at ‘those on the far left’.

The surveillance debate will take time, fortunately

It’s common for things like policing, surveillance  and spying to be revisited after a major event like the Christchurch mosque attacks. It is impossible to prevent any possible attack, but it is certainly worth looking at what more could be done to minimise the risks bu maximising the chances of identifying potential attackers before they attack.

There are likely to be some changes, but we have to be careful to keep a reasonable balance between protection and persona freedoms.

More surveillance is already happening. RNZ: More NZers under surveillance: Andrew Little authorises spy agencies to do more ‘intrusive’ activities

The country remains on a high threat alert more than a week after the terror attacks in Christchurch.

The actions of the agencies who are meant to protect New Zealand from such atrocities have been under scrutiny since Friday 15 March.

The minister responsible for the two security agencies, Andrew Little told Morning Report he had given authority to spy agencies to do “intrusive” activities under warrant.

“I’ve signed warrants [since the attacks] … I’m not sure I’m at liberty to disclose the number. We typically have between 30 to 40 people under surveillance. That number will be bigger now.”

Referring to the possible ties between a far-right group in Austria and the accused gunman, Little said he suspected it was because “our intelligence agencies are working with intelligence agencies across the world”.

He said work on scanning and building up a profile of right-wing extremism commenced in the middle of last year and was “definitely continuing”.

He also said he didn’t think New Zealand was a soft target in terms of security, but had a “robust system” for assessing “violent extremist risks”.

Asked if the attack was an intelligence failure, he said it was ” too premature to draw that conclusion”.

“The purpose of the Royal Commission of Inquiry is to ascertain whether or not there were failures on the part of our security and intelligence agencies.”

I think that with the attacks fresh on everyone’s minds most people will accept some increases in surveillance – as long as it doesn’t affect them.

Simon Bridges wants more:  GCSB and SIS’s ‘hands tied behind their backs’ – Simon Bridges

New Zealand spy agencies’ balance between privacy and security has tipped too far towards privacy, and should be revisited, National Party leader Simon Bridges says.

Bridges said yesterday New Zealand’s security risk had “changed” and a review of security legislation was needed to make sure people were kept safe.

He said a decision made by the former National government in 2013 to abandon Project Speargun, a more intrusive regime which would have scanned internet traffic coming into New Zealand, should be reconsidered.

“I think we were overcautious in 2013/14,” he told Morning Report today.

“I think the case is what we have right now are security agencies with two hands tied behind their backs.

Sam Sachdeva (Newsroom) suggests caution – Why sweeping surveillance laws aren’t the answer

National leader Simon Bridges is calling for New Zealand’s intelligence agencies to be given greater powers, claiming our spies currently have their hands tied behind their backs. But it’s far from clear that greater surveillance would have stopped the Christchurch attack, and hasty changes could be disastrous.

Bridges has succeeded in distinguishing himself from Ardern, who said New Zealanders did not want the country to be a “surveillance state”.

But on the substance of whether law changes would do much to prevent a similar attack, Bridges’ argument seems decidedly shaky.

It’s far from unusual for countries to tighten their security laws after a terror attack, with France, Belgium and the United Kingdom among nations to have passed more stringent legislation following domestic incidents.

Perhaps most infamously, the United States pushed through the USA PATRIOT Act after the September 11 attacks, granting sweeping powers to a number of government agencies despite objections from civil liberties advocates.

But there’s little evidence to suggest that more sweeping surveillance powers play a significant role in stopping other attacks.

Reinhard Kreissl, the chief executive of the Vienna Centre for Societal Security Research, has argued that better training of, and organisational structures for, law enforcement experts deliver higher returns than expanding the amount of data they gather.

“More data and more surveillance will not help to find the proverbial needle or needles in the haystack,” Kreissl said, a view echoed in a thorough piece on the New Zealand situation by The NZ Herald’s David Fisher.

There have already been questions about whether the NZSIS and GCSB focused too closely on the threat of Muslim extremism, and not enough on the rise of white supremacy and far-right extremists in recent years.

NZSIS boss Rebecca Kitteridge has said the agency increased its efforts to understand the threat posed by the far-right in recent months, but representatives of New Zealand’s Muslim community have said concerns raised much earlier were not taken seriously.

New Zealand’s current target may be white supremacists and the far-right, but there are no guarantees that future administrations or officials will be judicious in how they use any new laws.

A Royal Commission will undoubtedly take some time, but a painstaking examination is more appropriate than a hasty rush to judgment.

Justice Minister Andrew Little has said of surveillance reforms – arguably a far more contested and complex space than the Government’s gun laws – that “the worst time to be considering law changes is in the immediate aftermath of a monstrous event like this”.

It’s a sentiment Bridges may want to think about before he again tries to leap ahead of the pack.

Bridges and National are not in power so there is no risk of them rushing into making draconian and relatively ineffective changes. The Royal Commission will help slow things down and ensure security issues are at least debated and carefully considered. As they should be.

 

Legal blunder left 6 month NZSIS surveillance gap

Some journalism continues under the noise of media click baiting and copy/pasting and repeating.

David Fisher at NZH: Our spies disarmed by legal blunder amid ‘high threat operations’ against terrorists

A law-making bungle deprived our spies of a key weapon against terrorism in the wake of classified briefings warning of “an increasingly complex and escalating threat environment” in New Zealand.

NZ Security Intelligence Service documents revealed the blunder left our spies unable to use video surveillance tools to watch terrorism suspects in their cars, homes or workplaces for six months last year.

The documents, declassified and released through the Official Information Act, also revealed our spies have been involved in “high threat operations”.

It did not state what those operations were and NZSIS director-general Rebecca Kitteridge, in an interview with the NZ Herald, would not elaborate other than to say they involved police assistance.

She would not give details of the operations but said the NZSIS had taken active steps with the police to stop people who wanted to carry out terrorist attacks in New Zealand.

The details about the security situation in New Zealand is an unnerving backdrop to the blunder over warrants allowing visual surveillance.

Kitteridge revealed the hole in the law to former NZSIS minister Chris Finlayson last year.
In a memo on June 30, she said “the NZSIS no longer had the power to apply for a visual surveillance warrant” or to use emergency power to act without a warrant in emergencies.

The memo said warrants to allow visual surveillance were to “detect, investigate or prevent a terrorist act”.

But she said the NZSIS was unable to do so for six months after the old law expired on April 1 2017 because the new Intelligence and Security Act did not apply until September 28 2017.

Finlayson said he had gone through the law change “clause by clause with officials” and had told them “they had one last chance to indicate any concerns they may have had”.

“There were none.”

Finlayson said Parliament was in its closing stages prior to the election and he had “no intention of trying to ram stop-gap remedial legislation through the House”.

The new NZSIS Minister supports Finlayson’s judgement.

NZSIS minister Andrew Little said he supported Finlayson’s exercise of judgment and would have made the same decision.

A follow up at Newsroom: Officials to blame for spy law blunder – Finlayson

Former spy minister Chris Finlayson has thrown government officials under the bus for a blunder which deprived Kiwi spooks of visual surveillance tools, saying they would have been to blame had a terrorist attack occurred.

Speaking to media on Tuesday morning, Finlayson said he opposed an urgent law change due to the lack of time between the discovery of the blunder and the general election, coupled with criticism of his government’s previous use of urgency for intelligence laws and the drafting process for the new law.

“I had gone through that legislation, the draft legislation…clause by clause and I distinctly recall at the end of the meeting saying to people, ‘Right, state any further concerns or forever hold your peace, end of story’.”

There were “other mechanisms” that could have been used to cover the lack of visual surveillance powers, he said.

While the NZSIS had not explicitly raised the prospect of an urgent legislative fix, he believed Kitteridge’s briefings were “a precursor” to such a request.

Asked who would have been to blame had a terrorist attack occurred during the six months the NZSIS was without the powers, Finlayson replied bluntly, “They [the officials] would have been.”

Additional support from Little:

Current NZSIS Minister Andrew Little backed Finlayson’s decision to oppose urgent legislation, and said he did not believe New Zealand had been markedly more vulnerable during the six-month period.

“The security and intelligence agencies have a number of means and mechanisms to keep tabs on people who are regarded as a risk: visual surveillance is one of them, but in the relatively short period of time that they didn’t have access to powers to do that they were able to cover their needs off through other means,” Little said.

It’s difficult to know whether any damage was done by this blunder, but the danger period has now passed.

China’s surveillance technology – 大哥

China is moving rapidly towards a 大哥 society. How long until Big Bro?

Public surveillance cameras and face recognition technology are already being used increasingly around the world, but China is set to implement Big Brother on a massive scale.

BBC:  In Your Face: China’s all-seeing state

China has been building what it calls “the world’s biggest camera surveillance network”. Across the country, 170 million CCTV cameras are already in place and an estimated 400 million new ones will be installed in the next three years.

Many of the cameras are fitted with artificial intelligence, including facial recognition technology.

Washington Post: China’s intrusive, ubiquitous, scary surveillance technology

Human Rights Watch reported on Dec. 13 that Chinese authorities have been collecting DNA samples, blood types, fingerprints and iris scans, in some cases possibly without informing people, from a large swath of the population in the restive Xinjiang province in far northwestern China.

Ethnic Uighurs in Xinjiang have long complained about repression and discrimination at the hands of the Chinese government; resentment has sometimes turned violent.

According to Human Rights Watch, in a procedure rolled out this year, the authorities there are collecting the DNA and blood-type information under the cover of a “free annual physical exams program called Physicals for All.”

For several years now, China has been building out a system known as the social credit score, which collects information on the behavior of individuals from data such as financial transactions, shopping habits, social media and interactions with friends, as well as other indicators such as traffic tickets and unpaid bills, and computes a single loyalty or “trust” score for each individual.

The authorities plan to make the system mandatory for the whole country by 2020.

I guess we just have to hope this doesn’t spread to other countries.

Big Bro?

Key on mass collection versus mass surveillance

From John Key’s Monday media conference a sort of differentiation between mass collection of data and mass surveillance.

Question: You’ve said you’ll resign if there’s mass surveillance by the GCSB.

Key: Yep.

Question: Does that promise apply to mass collection of information as well?

Key: No, because in the end I was asked a very specific question, without re-creating history, and that was: are we conducting mass surveillance of New Zealanders?

And the answer is: No. That’s the advice I’ve had from GCSB. It’s not capable of doing that, and legally it’s not allowed to do that.

Question: But you’ve just said no to the question “Does it apply to mass collection?” So mass collection would not trigger, if it was proved there is mass collection, it wouldn’t trigger a resignation under the promise you’ve given?

Key: No.

Question: So the possibility is surely, I don’t know why this can’t be clarified but, the way the GCSB operates, that it hoovers up a whole lot of information and then just drops out the material that relates to New Zealanders.

Key: Well that’s your assessment of it, and look, in the end the law is pretty clear. The law says you can’t collect information about New Zealanders unless there are certain circumstances, and in the event that you collect incidental information about New Zealanders, ah then you know there’s a way of treating that.

And so my view is look, we have the law. We have a purpose of what it’s allowed to do.

And actually you have an Inspector General that’s both had the resources massively increased, and the power significantly increased, and so far in the twelve months that the Inspector General’s been in the job, she hasn’t raised with me concerns.

Ah I’m sure she’ll continue to do her work. Ah she’ll continue to look at these matters. No other previous Inspector General has raised concerns with me.

Um the assurances I’ve had on a repeated basis is as the former Minister I’ve asked them on numerous occasions, especially when the questions were being asked some time ago.

And the absolute assurances I’ve had from the Minister, they do not undertake mass surveillance against New Zealanders.

That’s all I can tell you.

I expect from that the paranoid will remain paranoid – they don’t believe anything what Key says about surveillance anyway – and the apathetic won’t have any idea he said it let alone understand what he said.

From about 13:38:

– source Scoop: NZ PM John Key’s Post Cabinet Press Conference – 9 March 2015

(Note to those who don’t understand New Zild “hoovers” means “vacuums” as in a cyber vacuum cleaner).

The spy is falling, the spy is falling!

Does the New Zealand public (and media) have Hager fatigue or apathy over spy stories?

Nicky Hager has been promoting his reports on New Zealand content of the Snowden files, first through NZ Herald on Thursday and yesterday through Sunday Star Times.

Wider media interest seemed to quickly fade, and apart from some devout activists and the Greens there has been largely a resounding “so what?”

Is this because most people simply don’t care about spying, are not surprised that it’s happening but don’t think it applies to them or will affect them?

Or is it Hager fatigue? Perhaps apart from some loyal supporters he is seen too much as a pesky lefty stirrer.

It will be a mix of both apathy and Hager fatigue.

Yesterday the Sunday Star Times featured reports from Nicky Hager et al based on the Snowden files.  See Sunday Star Times – next installments of Hager/Snowden.

This follows NZ Herald on Thursday launching – Spy ‘revelations’ a flood or a trickle? – in what is promised to be a series of reports on New Zealand aspects of the Snowden files that Hager has been given access to.

There was some wider media coverage on Thursday, but little apparent public interest.

Yesterday the Sunday Star Times coverage appears to have been largely ignored by other media. And the public seems to have been mostly disinterested as well. One of the articles appeared at the bottom of Stuff’s “Most Popular” in the middle of yesterday but by evening there was no sign of anything about spying.

This morning Google news doesn’t include any past spy stories on it’s New Zealand news summary page but there is one Stuff ‘Reader Report’ – Spying news ‘should come as no surprise’.

Stuff leads this page with:

REVELATIONS: Edward Snowden’s latest batch of revelations showed New Zealand was spying on its Pacific neighbours.

New documents show New Zealand has spied on its neighbours and allies, including countries in the Pacific. What do you think about these latest spying revelations?

But the only response published is an emphatic “so what?”

The recent revelations by the investigative journalist Nicky Hager that the New Zealand Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) has spied on individuals or organisations located in our neighbouring countries and even allies should come as no surprise to anyone.

Our spy agency is there to spy and gather information from those who are seeking to hide something. The idea that terrorists or criminals can avoid detection by basing themselves in a friendly country is ludicrous.

The world is shrinking daily and decisions made in one continent can be acted on almost instantly in another. Information gathered anywhere can have relevance anywhere.

We need to think globally if we are to combat global terrorists and gather intelligence globally too.

As an ordinary, law-abiding citizen I hope that is what my tax-funded GCSB does. I have nothing to hide or fear and to be brutally honest I don’t care a jot where the spies get the information from or who they share it with.

So it seems that when it comes to real life spy stories New Zealand yawns.

To be honest yesterday I posted links to the Sunday Star Times stories but apart from a cursory glance at the lead paragraphs I couldn’t be bothered reading them.

Has Hager cried and cried wolf too often? He may be guilty of over-egging revelations – be it on dirty self interested politics or spying – that lack compelling evidence.

The problem with ‘The spy is falling, the spy is calling!’ approach is that something that’s barely of interest in the first place gets easily ignored.

A few of the most important and concerning aspects of our spying should probably warrant public scrutiny, or awareness at least.

But this is shrouded in a fog of scaremongering.

French surveillance post Paris attacks

‘The Scrutineer’ at Al Jazeera looks at surveillance in light of the Paris attacks – In wake of Paris attacks, French surveillance gets a closer look.

France already allows mass surveillance with new laws coming into effect just before the attacks.

French President Francois Hollande chaired an emergency meeting Monday morning with key cabinet ministers and heads of police and security services to discuss how persons known to the country’s intelligence community were still able to coordinate violent raids in Paris. But just days before the attacks on the offices of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo left 12 dead and wounded another 11, a controversial new law, broadly expanding the French government’s surveillance powers, went into effect.

The law — passed in December 2013 over loud protests by the Green Party, leftists, privacy advocates and business interests — permits the French government to engage in real-time, bulk data collection without judicial oversight. This, coupled with a 2014 law criminalizing “individual terrorist enterprise,” has established the kind of wide-ranging authority that, when used by the U.S. National Security Agency, was once sharply condemned by Hollande.

Buit they had been doing mass surveillance prior to making it legal.

Yet, long before the 2013 surveillance bill was introduced, Hollande’s socialist administration was profiling French Muslims, and, unbeknownst to the public, carrying out a massive program of domestic surveillance.

Run out of the Directorate-General for External Security (DGSE) — the French CIA equivalent staffed by some 5,000 people, with an annual budget of 600 million Euros (more than $700 million) — the monitoring program has gathered troves of informationthrough a network of satellites and 20 on-the-ground “listening stations” dispersed throughout France and its territories. Untold volumes have been swept in: data and metadata from phone calls, email and text messages, social media posts and faxes. (No matter that the country supported a 2013 U.N. resolution on the right to privacy in the digital age.)

Other post-9/11 laws and policies — not at all clandestine — have permitted incursions into French daily life, virtual and real. Statutes purporting to combat terrorism and illegal file-sharing have undermined privacy on the Web and, by extension, residents’ freedom of speech.

And they had been watching the Paris murderers.

Following Wednesday morning’s attack, it became clear that French intelligence and law enforcement had been monitoring the shooters, Cherif and Said Kouachi. And, during the Friday standoffs, much was divulged about Amedy Coulibaly, the man who held 16 hostages at a Paris kosher supermarket. But earlier surveillance failed to prevent these incidents.

The only type of surveillance that would stop almost all attacks would be round the clock surveillance by people, and the intrusiveness of that and the resources required would rule it out as a viable option.

Many will want to know why. As analogies to 9/11 and the Patriot Act proliferate in the international media, Hollande’s reformist administration may be forced to choose, at least rhetorically, between national security and the rights to privacy and freedom of speech. The coming months will challenge France to answer with intelligence of a different kind.

Many governments will be challenged by the Paris attacks, and will be forced between types and degrees of surveillance.

Law enforcement and protection will never be 100% effective. The challenge is to get a reasonable and palatable balance between security and the rights to privacy and freedom of speech.

Presland: On Freedom of Speech and Tolerance and Powers of Surveillance

I don’t always see things the same as Greg Presland but he has a very good post at The Standard: On Freedom of Speech and Tolerance and Powers of Surveillance

I was shocked to wake up and read about the killing of staff at Charlie Hebdo and also the killing of two police officers, one of who, Ahmed Merabet, was reportedly of Muslim background.

We should suspend full judgment on what has happened until we have more facts.  Leaping to judgment has previously been shown to be a mistake.  Early speculation about the Sydney Siege was shown to be incorrect, not to mention damaging.

The report from one of the survivors suggests that the killers may have been French born adherents of the Muslim faith and Charlie Hebdo’s caricatures of the prophet Mohammed was clearly the cause of the attack which appears to have been well planned.  There are reports that the attackers claimed to be from Al-Qaeda in Yemen.  Suspects have been identified.

It is not as if acts of terrorism are unknown, it is just that acts of terrorism involving Muslims appear to receive extra coverage.  For instance the recent firebombing of NAACP offices in Colorado received little local coverage although admittedly no one was killed.  The killing of seven journalists during the recent Israeli attacks on Palestine received little coverage.  But any “Muslim” involvement seems to make the event that much more newsworthy.

There are three implications for our society from these events:

  1. Loss of Freedom of speech
  2. A break down of tolerance
  3. A push by the State to further increase the powers of surveillance.

As to the first there will be a chilling effect on the media.  But we need to protect their right to publish information, even upsetting information.  Satire has to be at the front of the list of what needs to be protected.

And murder is never an acceptable response to taking offence.

Some have suggested there should be a mass publishing of the offending cartoons.  But I do not know why.  I agree with Stephanie Rodgers that in terms of quality they are poor.  And why exercise the right of free speech just to offend?  While we should have the utmost right to say something this does not mean that we should use it to intentionally upset.

That’s a very good point that I agree with. I don’t like some of the Charlie Hebdo cartoons, I think they get too offensive and provocative (and I don’t understand much about the French context). But they have a right to publish them as I have a choice to support the right but not republish their cartoons.

The “break down of tolerance” has been happening for a while.  Attacks by the extremist fringe of a particular society are said to be justification for condemning that society as a whole.  This is as nutty as blaming Christianity for the actions of the Klu Klux Klan.  But if we allow tolerance to break down then the terrorists are winning.  The best thing we can do is reach out to the various Muslim Communities to show that all we have interesting cultural differences there is so much that we share in common.

Accepting differences and promoting the good in different cultures and religions (and non-religion) is important, and far less dangerous than intolerance, abuse and provocation.

Finally, as for increased surveillance it is a given that the governments’ particularly the right wing varieties, will use this event to push for even further powers of surveillance.  But the question whether increased powers will ever improve things, let alone justify the loss of personal freedom, is never properly answered during these bouts of power grabbing.  After all the actions of a lone gunman in Sydney who pretty well published his nuttiness to the world via Facebook were not stopped.  Allowing even further powers of intrusion into our lives will help how?

That’s a very good question that we need to keep examining. We can never be 100% secure, nor 100% private. Finding a reasonable and reelatively safe balance will be an ongoing challenge.

Chauvel, Parker, Collins, Farrar

It’s not common to see the practical co-operative business end of parliament, especialy this positively.

Charles Chauvel:

It is clear that this is a much better bill. There are significant modifications to the proposed surveillance device regime, better regulation of the more intrusive forms of surveillance that were originally proposed, a reduction in the warrantless surveillance period, better rules over the retention of data, stronger reporting requirements for surveillance device warrants, and better controls over examination and production orders.

So it is absolutely the case that Parliament did what it is expected to do via the select committee process on this measure. It did look at the detail. The parties worked together and they did produce a better bill.

High praise for the side of parliament we don’t hear much about – where much of the actual work is done.

Charles also says:

The Minister and I met yesterday. She wrote to me today, and I accept her good-faith attempt to try to resolve these problems, and in passing I should say that, in respect of at least two other measures I can think of, I appreciate the approach she has already shown in this portfolio.

She is willing to stand back and take a look at whether a measure is really necessary and whether or not it really commands stakeholder support, and if it does not she is willing to give it another look, and that is something that ought to be said for the record.

And David Parker:

I repeat the thanks that have been expressed by my colleague Charles Chauvel for the way in which the National Party conducted itself at the Justice and Electoral Committee. The committee was chaired by Chester Borrows.

The Search and Surveillance Bill is one of the most complex and difficult pieces of legislation that I have considered in any select committee since I have been in Parliament. It is one in which the select committee took very seriously the proper balance between the protection of civil liberties and the necessary powers to be afforded to State agencies to investigate criminal conduct.

Sounds like it’s well done by all involved, on a very tricky and contentious bit of legislation. This involves a positive approach from all parties, and is a refreshing change to the usual media coverage of politics.

David Farar calls it Rare Praise. I hope we can get to see this approach as normal.