NZ POLITICS DAILY: Should John Key resign over mass surveillance?

NZ POLITICS DAILY: March 12 2015

The Prime Minister has previously promised to resign if it is proven that the GCSB carries out mass surveillance of New Zealanders. His critics say that the latest Snowden revelations do indeed show that. So, should he resign? 

John Key’s biggest critic at the moment seems to be international investigative journalist Glenn Greenwald, who has penned an aggressive critique of the PM’s resolution to stay in office – see: NZ Prime Minister retracts vow to resign if mass surveillance is shown. Greenwald is scathing about Key’s integrity and his “reneging on a public pledge to resign” now that “a mountain of evidence has been presented that indisputably proves that New Zealand does exactly that which Prime Minister Key vehemently denied”.

Key is clearly not going anywhere and is adamant that “mass surveillance” is not occurring. For his side of things, it’s really worth listening to Key’s 10-minute interview with Radio NZ’s Guyon Espiner: PM won't give assurance NZers not caught in eavesdropping

So, is the GCSB carrying out “mass surveillance” or not? According to Bruce Ferguson, there is certainly “mass collection” occurring – listen to his very interesting 7-minute interview with Guyon Espiner: Former GCSB director unfazed by spy revelations.

It seems that the debate is now hinging on the technicalities between the concepts of “mass surveillance” versus “mass collection”. There’s an increasing tendency for the Government to admit that “mass collection” occurs, but deny that this equates with any sort of “mass surveillance”. For a short discussion of the different terms (plus “interception”) see No Right Turn’s Collection, surveillance, and interception

Whatever the truth, we should be taking the latest revelations seriously according to Andrea Vance, who has written a must-read opinion piece: Silence on surveillance not healthy. Vance explains why the public shouldn’t have faith in the current spy agency arrangements.

Key’s aggressive response to the scandal

The Prime Minister has front footed his defence of the GCSB very aggressively, which Andrea Vance details best in her article John Key digs in over spying claims

Key’s response has been criticised by many, with the best versions being Tracy Watkins’ John Key burning up political capital following Edward Snowden revelations, Fran O'Sullivan’s Key should get over Hager hang-up, Toby Manhire’s All-seeing PM a match for Five Eyes, and James Robins’ Screaming left-wing conspiracy theorists.

Key has also sought to reassure the public about the GCSB’s legitimacy by pointing to the fact that neither the current – nor the previous – official watch dog on the GSCB has raised any concerns with him about dubious GCSB operations – see RNZ’s Mass collection vs mass surveillance

The Reassurance of authorities

It’s not just the PM who is giving strong assurances that nothing untoward, illegal or wrong is going on. The spy agencies and officials themselves are pleading their innocence – see Andrea Vance’s GCSB spies 'collecting less intelligence'.

Such assurances are seemingly convincing even to Opposition MPs, who are receiving a top secret briefing from security officials and saying they are less concerned – see Audrey Young’s Little a bit less worried about GCSB activities

What is the public to make of the fact that we are being told by the Government and authorities that no “mass surveillance” is taking place, but told by a number of respected investigative journalists that the Snowdon documents show the opposite?

One possibility is that the GCSB are, in fact, correct in keeping to the letter of the law, but not the spirit. Great efforts, it seems, are made to find loopholes in which spy agencies can follow the law but also carry out mass surveillance. This is explained very well in the must-read blog post by Denis Tegg, in which it is explained that the new legal definition of ‘private communications’ effectively means that everything is open slather – see: Is warrant-less spying on NZers lawful?

In their latest appearance at the annual parliamentary select committee hearings yesterday, the spy officials would not answer some basic questions – especially about whether they are undertaking mass collection (or ‘full-take’). They have defended their lack of transparency with the usual reference to the need for secrecy. 

But isn’t there still room for the agencies to provide much more information to convince the public of their lawfulness? In this regard, Thomas Beagle of the NZ Council for Civil Liberties has put forward A suggestion for increasing intelligence service transparency. He argues that the GCSB could easily release its legal analyses of what it can and can’t do. Beagle says “As these legal analyses would only discuss the publicly available law, I believe that making them public would not risk New Zealand's security.  This would lead to a better public understanding of what the GCSB can and cannot do under the current law thereby reducing uncertainty and increasing trust”.

Latest spy revelations

The latest Snowden files show that the New Zealand Government says one thing in its foreign policy, but acts differently in its global surveillance operations – see Nicky Hager and Ryan Gallagher’s New Zealand's spy reach stretches across globe. So although our country likes to portray itself as altruistic in its global role, it plays an entirely more aggressive and subversive role in reality. Therefore, after these revelations, our understanding of this country’s foreign policy will never be the same again.

For more on how New Zealand spies on people, politicians and governments across the Pacific, see Nicky Hager, Ryan Gallagher and Anthony Hubbard’s Snowden files: NZ's spying on the family.

Of the latest Snowden spy revelations, possibly the most important is Nicky Hager and Ryan Gallagher’s Inside Waihopai's domes, which details how the New Zealand spying operations work. See also Sunday Star Times’ Which satellites are targeted by Waihopai?

In terms of the technical revelations, Ryan Gallagher’s article in The Intercept is important – see: New Zealand targets trade partners, hacks computers in spy operations. It shows how the New Zealand spies are now using cyber attacks overseas. The GCSB is said to use ‘malware to infect and spy on computers, and to monitor cellphones’, as well as ‘covert listening posts hidden in New Zealand embassy and high commission buildings’.

It’s all about New Zealand playing the role of “junior lieutenant” to the United States’ need to keep “the South Pacific safe for imperialism” – see Chris Trotter’s Keeping Watch Over America's Lake. But according to blogger, No Right Turn, the technical way this is done, with a massive “dragnet” is Massively disproportionate.

Public debate about spying and civil liberties

The meaningfulness and relevance of the Snowden revelations are still being processed, and there’s a fair degree of polarisation about it all. There certainly needs to be greater debate, especially with an upcoming parliamentary inquiry about to take place – which is best dealt with in David Fisher’s Inquiry must look at spy practices: Peter Dunne

In such a debate we need to think about the big issues of freedom and safety – which Keith Ng blogs about thoughtfully in Leviathan, and Amnesty International’s Grant Bayldon writes about in Nothing to hide, nothing to fear?

There’s been a series of useful newspaper editorials about the latest revelations, which are also helpful to the public debate – see the Herald’s Pacific spying - at least we know about it, the Otago Daily Times’ The question of spying, the Timaru Herald’s We don't much like being kept in the dark, the Dominion Post’s Spying demands an explanation, the Manawatu Standard’s Is NZ an intelligence player, or just a pawn?, and The Press’ If we must spy, it should be to secure NZ interests

Also, for an interesting and insightful discussion of the latest issues, see the 25-minute video interview by the Evening Report’s Selwyn Manning: Nicky Hager Interview on the Snowden Revelations. Or read the Full Transcript: The Nicky Hager Interview

Finally, for some humour on the issue, see my updated blog post Cartoons about #snowdenNZ and other spy issues and Ben Uffindell’s two satirical blog posts, GCSB not spying; just ‘inadvertently looking’ and Spying justified because Nauru is ‘serious threat to New Zealand’, says Prime Minister

Today’s content

NZ spying revelations

Evening Report: Nicky Hager Interview on the Snowden Revelations 

Evening Report: Full Transcript: The Nicky Hager Interview

Ryan Gallagher (The Intercept): New Zealand targets trade partners, hacks computers in spy operations

Nathan Smith (NBR): New GCSB documents show China on target list for NZ spies (Paywalled)

Rob Salmond (Polity): The GCSB and the Unknown Unknowns

Andrea Vance (Stuff): GCSB spies 'collecting less intelligence'

Audrey Young (Herald): Little a bit less worried about GCSB activities

Audrey Young (Herald): 'Transparency is not an easy matter' - GCSB director

Jane Patterson (RNZ): GCSB: 'We do not do that'

Thomas Beagle (NZCCL): A suggestion for increasing intelligence service transparency

No Right Turn: Doing less with more

RNZ: Fiji military knew about NZ spying


1080 baby formula threat

Jamie Ball (NBR): Up to $30m of formula sent to China without 1080 certification

RNZ: Government tightens 1080 controls

Patrice Dougan (Herald): 1080 poison: Government introduces tighter regulations

Tracy Watkins (Stuff): China gives baby formula wide berth in wake of extortion threat

Stacey Kirk (Stuff): The ripples of the 1080 scare

Kate Newton (RNZ): International 1080 response low-key

Marta Steeman (Stuff): Anxious wait for milk producers

Myles Hume (Stuff): Milk poison threat affects supermarket security

John Weekes (Herald): Infant formula threat: Few could get hold of 1080 poison used – expert

Blair Ensor and Jo Moir (Stuff): Police visit anti-1080 party figures

Newswire: Labour: 1080 threat was overplayed

Herald: Editorial: 1080 warning a double-edged sword

Press: Editorial: 'Eco-terrorism' but no panic

Jonathan Mackenzie (Waikato Times): Despicable 1080 terrorist must be found

Gerard Hutching (Stuff): Authorities stood on 'knife edge' over revealing 1080 threat

Simon Wong (TV3): Tighter controls on pure 1080 movements

Nicholas Jones (Herald): Revealed: Threat to Tiger Woods in NZ in 2001


Northland by-election

Simon Wong (TV3): Video: No nail fail for Winston Peters

Stuff: Winston Peters hits nail on head

Claire Trevett (Herald): Winston Peters panic sees National roll out the (pork) barrel

Dita De Boni (Herald): Northland needs help, not hot air

Rachel Smalley (Newstalk ZB): The Bridge By-Election

Barry Soper (Newstalk ZB): Forgotten electorate suddenly important

Claire Trevett (Herald): Act ups ante for Northland

Peter Wilson (Newswire): Northland by-election: ACT considers backing National

Benedict Collins (RNZ): ACT: Peters' victory would be 'very bad'

Anthony Robins (Standard): National’s Epsom branch to back National in Northland

Anna Burns-Francis (TV3): Bridge bribe money well spent?

Rob Salmond (Polity): House highlight: Bridges' bridges edition

Cameron Slater (Whaleoil): The silly Northland conspiracy theories

Greg Presland (Standard): Key crosses a bridge too far

Kelly Ellis (Daily Blog): Winter is coming


Greens leadership contest

Andrea Vance (Stuff): MP bids for Greens co-leader role

David Farrar (Kiwiblog): Shaw runs after all


Threatened Kauri tree

Martin Johnston and Teuila Fuatai (Herald): Kauri battle: 'Let the tree stay' - site owners

Steven Cowan (Against the current): Tree huggers with a cause

Aimee Gulliver (Auckland Now): Kauri tree stoush catches Environment minister's eye

Auckland Now: Kauri protester gains support

Briar Marbeck (TV3): Auckland Council to meet over kauri tree

No Right Turn: "More than minor"

Peter Wilson (Newswire): Kauri felling a 'significant concern'

Shane Cowlishaw (Auckland Now): Rachel Hunter joins kauri debate



Flag referendum

Claire Trevett (Herald): Labour to oppose flag bill

Jason Walls (NBR): NBR poll participants sceptical of Key’s flag referendum (Paywalled)

Mike Hosking (Herald): New flag nothing to get in flap over

Pete George (Your NZ): Loony Labour line on flag questions

Cameron Slater (Whaleoil): Finally Labour does something sensible


MP pay

Nicholas Jones (Herald): Politicians could be paid more under new plan

Vernon Small (Stuff): Delay to MPs' pay law change

No Right Turn: Legislate in haste, repent before you've even started


NZ in Iraq

Andrea Vance and Tracy Watkins (Stuff): Doubt over Iraq mission aims

Liam Hehir (Manawatu Standard): History says to help in the fight



Nelson Mail: Equality still a work in progress

John Anthony (Stuff): Sovereign NZ CEO's gender equality work gets UN nod

Johnny Moore: Here's why I'm a feminist



Rosemary Rangitauira and Andrew Mcrae (RNZ): Maori TV accused of censorship

Morgan Godfery (Maui Street): On the role of criticism: Te Matatini

Scott Yorke (Imperator Fish): A chance to be famous



Gareth Morgan (Gareth’s World): Reserve Bank throws another pail of water on house price inferno

Eric Crampton (Offsetting Behviour): Against capital gains taxes: Sumner edition



Vernon Small (Stuff): Political management a mixed bag

Olivia Wannan (Stuff): DOC accused of spin tactics

Herald: Ministry of Health investigates medicinal cannabis use

No Right Turn: Holograms, reptilians, and the OIA

David Clendon (Green Blog): Election Inquiry: Prisoners’ right to vote

Amelia Langford (RNZ): IRD accused of 'extraordinary' IT blow-out 

Jody O’Callaghan (Stuff): Canterbury University's code of conduct a 'gag order'

Teuila Fuatai (Herald): Defence Force hosts first same-sex wedding

Vernon Small (Stuff): Surprise Government surplus on higher tax take

Nathan Smith (NBR): NZ must sell to 4.5 billion, not 4.5 million, says Key (Paywalled)

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