Saturday, 3 August 2013

Surveilance with a side of camp farce.

As the world pays attention to the big drama of Edward Snowden as he gains temporary asylum in Russia and Bradley Manning faces sentencing and a possible sentence of 134 years, a smaller scale drama is happening in New Zealand, and this one has a strong element of farcical Campanella.

We here are of course playing host  to the Kim Dotcom saga, in which foreign powers have pressured our authorities to spy on a New Zealand citizen - illegally according to the judgement of our courts.

But in the fallout from that judgement the Kitteridge enquiry was formed to investigate the practice of spying on New Zealanders by the GCSB. Far from a highlighting a supposed isolated nature of the Dotcom case, the Kitteridge report revealed that 88 New Zealanders are or have been spied on in recent time. All this despite current law prohibiting the GCSB from targeting New Zealanders.

The government were sitting on that report, until it was leaked to Parliamentary Journalist Andrea Vance.  The PM was livid, though you might not have noticed with that smile that Heath Ledger made famous in his last blockbuster gig.  The PM set up another enquiry to find the leaker. Eventually they came to the conclusion that MP Peter Dunne, a coalition partner that national actually kind of needs because of its weak majority.  In particular Dunne's vote was needed to get the GCSB Bill through its second reading vote this week.

There have since been revealed serious problems with how that enquiry gathered information from which it formed its conclusions.  First, phone call data, and now emails between Dunne and Vance. While the PM says that releasing this information to the enquiry was a mistake that should be blamed on a contractor, but oops John Key's Chief of Staff actually ordered the release of the information.

This farce isn't so much making the case that we need more survellance as much as it is making the case that governments, especially this government, cannot be trusted with private information.

And this is only when they should be on their best behaviour, while they put on a show to say "We can be trusted to spy on bad people to keep you safe from them." Instead the message that is coming across is "We are the bad people who should never be allowed to spy on anyone."

Never mind maliferous intent, incompetence and paranoia can lead to chilling effects on the exercise of rights to free expression and political criticism.

The last four years have been dotted with big privacy breaches by government departments, From publicly accessible kiosks with access to private information related to clients receiving social security assistance, to Accident Compensation Corporation sending clients files to other clients and in one case being blackmailed for the return of the files.

All this has made New Zealanders wary of claims that we need more surveillance, it just seems like another thing to screw people up.

Talking on morning talk radio in Christchurch the PM made the poorly substantiated claim that there are Al-Qaeda trained New Zealanders operating in New Zealand. If that were true the Police already have the instruments to deal with the threat. Even the dreaded Search and Surveillance Act is ample for their purpose. The Urewera case highlights the paranoia that is a work, after the raids, 18 people were charged, 14 cases fell apart, of the remaining four cases firearms charge did stick, but there was no indication of other crime.  These folks seem to have gotten slammed down for being amateur weekend warriors.

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