Tuesday, May 07, 2013

The spy bill

Last year, we learned that the GCSB had illegally spied on Kim Dotcom. Last month, we learned that he wasn't the only victim: they had illegally intercepted the communications of 85 other New Zealanders. Today, the government released its response to that unlawful behaviour, in the form of the Government Communications Security Bureau and Related Legislation Amendment Bill. But rather than subjecting them to stricter controls so they can't run amok again, John Key wants to give them more power.

The full bill is here [PDF], and its a shocker. Some highlights:

  • removing any mention of foreign intelligence from the Act;
  • Changing the GCSB's objectives from a tight focus on the gathering of foreign intelligence and securing government computer networks to a general national security function (including of course "economic well-being" - a licence to spy on anti-FTA campaigners and trade unionists)
  • Broadening the GCSB's functions from the present list focused on foreign intelligence to three broad categories: "information assurance and cybersecurity", "intelligence gathering and analysis", and "cooperation with other entities".
  • Broadening the intelligence function from gathering foreign intelligence to "gather[ing] and analys[ing] intelligence about information infrastructures". what's an "information infrastructure"? Any computer, anywhere. So, we're getting a full-fledged domestic spying agency via the back-door.
  • Allowing them to gain interception warrants and access authorisations (allowing covert access to your computer) for that domestic "information assurance and cybersecurity" function. The ban on intercepting domestic communications specifically does not apply to this, so the intention is to spy on New Zealanders.
  • Broadening interception warrants from applying to specific persons or places (as at present) to applying to classes of people or places. For example, "all members of Greenpeace".
  • Using the Commissioner of Security warrants as an additional "safeguard" on interceptions. Whoop-di-do. They've never refused any request for a warrant, so they're not any form of safeguard. Instead, they're just a rubberstamp tarted up as one. Just like the Inspector-General of security and Intelligence.
  • The interception warrant provisions "appl[y] despite anything in any other Act." So they over-ride the Bill of Rights Act.
  • Allowing the GCSB to shop around for a compliant Minister (from a list of three) if their regular rubberstamp is visiting his holiday home in Hawaii or is otherwise unavailable.
  • Increasing penalties for GCSB staff who talk about their jobs - but not for GCSB staff who unlawfully spy on kiwis.
The latter I think says it all: this is a bill written by the spies, for the spies. Whether New Zealanders want to be spied upon has not been considered. There is some good stuff buried in there - the idea of "incidental intelligence" perfectly captures what we thought was the situation regarding police co-operation, and the position of the GCSB director has been put on a sounder statutory footing (though amusingly, their statutory performance reviews cannot consider "any security operations undertaken, or proposed to be undertaken" - that is, their actual performance). But the guts of it is a naked power grab by the spies, which would allow them to spy on you, me, and everyone. All in the name of "national security", of course. Who are we being kept "secure" from? It's top secret, of course. And we pay $50 million a year for this bullshit.

This bill is not fit for purpose. It - and the present GCSB - needs to be scrapped. We do not need a spy agency empowered to spy on everything kiwis do on the internet (sorry, "gather and analyse intelligence about information infrastructures"). We need some security geeks to ensure the government keeps our private information secure, and that's it. as for the rest, it should be de-funded and consigned to the dustbin of history.