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June 3, 2013 | by  | in News |
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I Spy With My Little Eye

Last week, the Wellington Library’s public meeting space packed out to hear prominent New Zealanders’ thoughts on the Government spying on its own people.

Investigative journalist Nicky Hager, former Green MP Keith Locke, and criminal lawyer Michael Bott all spoke about the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) and the implications of state intelligence and surveillance in New Zealand. OASIS, an awareness-raising group concerned about state surveillance, hosted the panel.

Despite the government agency’s emphasis on secrecy, the GCSB has recently become particularly newsworthy, due to the discovery of illegal spying on New Zealanders at other agencies’ request. Attention was drawn to its activities by the owner of file-sharing service Mega, Kim Dotcom, and also by subsequent changes proposed by the Government to legislation governing the GCSB.

An amendment bill was introduced and given its First Reading under urgency last month. Minister of Justice Judith Collins said it was necessary to clarify the GCSB’s ability to monitor and intercept New Zealand residents’ communications. The Bill would allow the GCSB to spy on New Zealanders in certain circumstances, and would mean the GSCB can coordinate with the Police, Defence Force, and Security Intelligence Service.

The panellists argued that a surveillance society is not in anyone’s interests. Bott pointed out that while not all surveillance is harmful, the Bill would have a “chilling effect on civil liberties and good governance”.

Hager described the GCSB as “using Cold-War technology to spy on New Zealanders”, and said the mindset of the agency in a post-9/11 world was that “the enemy was within”.

Locke has personal experience of being spied upon intermittently from 11 years of age. He argued that New Zealand’s international surveillance is counter to our independence and what most New Zealanders think about peace and social justice.

Submissions to the Intelligence and Security Committee close on Thursday 13 June. Hager urged submitters to request an amendment that the GCSB be required to produce an annual report documenting its surveillance, including numbers of those affected.

Contrary to popular attitudes regarding youth apathy for privacy in a social-media age, Hager believed that most young people have valid concerns about encroachments on their civil liberties. He emphasised that a unifying space was needed for this purpose of protecting such liberties.

OASIS encourages young people who want further information to contact the organisation at oasisfromsurveillance@gmail.com.

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