National expands surveillance powers, just as Labour did – GCSB protests growing

Posted: July 30, 2013 by Admin in 'Counter-insurgency', Democracy movements, Imperialism and anti-imperialism, Information technology, New Zealand politics, State repression, State terrorism, Surveillance state

by Daphna Whitmore

Auckland protest against the GCSB Bill 27 July 2013

Auckland protest against the GCSB Bill 27 July 2013

It is no secret that the GCSB (Government Communications Security Bureau) has been spying on New Zealanders. As is often the way, the spying came to light through a series of blunders. In this case Kim Dotcom, a German national with New Zealand residency, had been spied on at the behest of the FBI. Somehow section 14 of the GCSB Act, which states that GCSB may not “take any action for the purpose of intercepting the communications of a person … who is a New Zealand citizen or a permanent resident” had been misunderstood. Through the Ketteridge review of the GCSB, published in March 2013, we learned that 85 New Zealanders had been under the agency’s surveillance since 2003. National is busy fixing that by legalising the unlawful spying. For many it is a step too far. Thousands of people in a dozen cities joined a national day of action on 27 July 2013 opposing the law change.

Not so free

The following day investigative journalist Nicky Hager broke the news that New Zealand Defence Force security manuals suggested “certain investigative journalists” were a  “subversion” threat. Freedom, equality and fraternity have always been more window dressing than reality under capitalism.

So the US Constitution declares “the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasona ble searches and seizures, shall not be violated…” Fine principles, but of little concern to the NSA which runs Prism – the vast secret spy programme revealed by whistleblower Snowden. Prism collects and stockpiles 1.7 billion communications a day. Snowden also claimed web companies Microsoft, Skype, Yahoo and Google actively  supply the NSA access to data.

The scale of the snooping is mind boggling, but the privacy violations are not new. As Gary Leupp wrote on counterpunch, “The FBI’s “Counterintelligence Program” (COINTELPRO), active from 1956 to 1971, collected information through wiretaps and other means with the specific objective of destroying civil rights and left-wing organizations. One of its stated missions was to use surveillance on activists to release negative personal information to the public to discredit them. In many instances the agents succeeded, and they ruined lives. And their abilities to do so pale in comparison with the abilities of Obama’s NSA.”

New Zealand is part of the five countries alliance (with US, UK, Canada, Australia) operating spy bases and sharing intelligence. The Waihopai spy base feeds information to that network which is used for military, diplomatic and industrial espionage.

While the SIS was widely known as the domestic spy agency,  the GCSB operated in secret from 1977 when it was set up by National Prime Minister Rob Muldoon until 2003  when they came out from the shadows and the Labour Government passed the GCSB Act.

Extending surveillance powers has been the prerogative of every government and prime minister since the 1940s. The Defence Force, the SIS, and later the GCSB have been tapping radio communications, and more recently emails and phone calls  for decades.

In the foreword to Nicky Hager’s book Secret Power: New Zealand’s Role In The International Spy Network David Lange wrote: “An astonishing number of people have told him things that I, as Prime Minister in charge of the Intelligence agencies, was never told…It is an outrage that I and other ministers were told so little”. Lange may have been outraged in hindsight, but he did not roll back surveillance in his time in office, and nor have any Labour governments.

The erosion of civil liberties was stepped up after 9/11 and, as John Minto has pointed out, a whole raft of laws have extended the powers of government agencies to spy on New Zealanders. Check out the list here.  Ten out of 15 of these repressive laws were enacted by Labour.

Yay, another review

Waihopai dome collapsed by peace protesters

Waihopai dome collapsed by peace protesters

Key tried to get Labour on board with the amendments to the GCSB, after all, it was their legislation in the first place. Sensing public opposition was growing Labour opted instead to make noises about repealing the Act. It is a feeble sort of repeal, with Shearer saying he’ll keep National’s  amended GCSB Act in place and hold a review, then make necessary changes. There’s nothing new in Labour tweaking National’s laws (and vice versa). History shows that Labour is just as committed to the surveillance state as National. When three Christian activists broke into the Waihopai spy base in 2008 and deflated the cover of one of the satellite dishes Helen Clark condemned the attack as a “senseless act of criminal vandalism” and bemoaned the repair costs. Closing Waihopai, which has cost $500 million to build and operate, is a demand that could grow as people become aware of its role in a foul web of spying. Shutting down all the spy agencies should also be top of the agenda.

See also:                                                                                                                                              Edward Snowden and the American state: David v Goliath in the world of hi-tech                                                 We’re all data in the end: the rise of the surveillance state

  1. I remember the 1996 SIS break-in at the home of Aziz Choudry, an anti-APEC activist in Christchurch. David Small, another activist, came upon the SIS break-in and caught one of them. Back in September 2011, in an article on Facebook on another piece of legislation violating privacy, he wrote this:

    “Fifteen years ago, I caught two agents of the Security Intelligence Service (SIS) breaking into the home of Aziz Choudry, an organizer of a Christchurch conference critical of APEC.

    “After the official SIS complaints process through the office of the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security proved worthless, Mr Choudry sued the SIS in trespass and for breach of his Bill of Rights entitlement to be free from unreasonable search.

    “The crown replied by arguing inter alia that a warrant to intercept communications implied a right of covert entry.

    “The court (however) found that even in the rarified atmosphere of national security, an intrusion onto private property was such a breach of privacy that it could be justified only where there was explicit provision for it.

    “The SIS claimed at the time that it had been operating since 1977 in the belief that it had the power to enter private property to intercept communication through acts such as installing surveillance equipment.

    “Following the judgment against the SIS, Parliament rushed through legislation to empower the SIS to enter private property pursuant to interception warrants, and retrospectively legalizing SIS break-ins back to 1977.”

    Since 1977, of course, there were a number of Labour prime ministers, all of whom were automatically in charge of the SIS and therefore ultimately responsible for these break-ins.

    I also remember that when the court finally ruled against the state over the Choudry break-in, Geoffrey Palmer (QC and a former Labour prime minister) dashed out a statement calling on the government (I think the Nats were still in power) to bring forward new legislation to make such break-ins legal!

    The fact that so much of this type of legislation has been enacted by Labour is just another indication of how Labour and National are just two heads of the same beast. The ruling class has two big parties (and several small ones); the workers have no party.


  2. Simon Heath says:

    Ah the irony of posting that on Facebook, the surveillance social networking site.

  3. I think Dave S was very aware of Facebook and not concerned about spooks knowing what he’d written.

  4. […] Further reading: National expands surveillance state, just like Labour […]