Tuesday, April 17, 2018

National opposes oversight of our spies

Yesterday, the Inspector-General of Intelligence and security announced the creation of a civil society reference group to provide advice on her work programme. The group includes lawyers, intelligence policy experts, journalists and civil libertarians, and many have been strong critics of New Zealand's intelligence agencies in the past. Journalist Nicky Hager is the most prominent of these, but the group also includes Deborah Manning (who represented Ahmed Zaoui in his battle for freedom), journalist David Fisher, and Thomas Beagle of the NZ Council for Civil Liberties. Together, they'll help bring a more critical eye to the IGIS' work, and raise issues of concern which the IGIS may not have thought of. And if we want robust oversight of the spies to stop them getting out of control, that's a Good Thing.

Naturally, though, National is outraged at the thought that anyone who isn't part of the spy-club getting to have an opinion on spying. And its clear from Brownlee's press release that he doesn't actually want robust oversight at all. Instead, he wants an Inspector-General who meekly accepts whatever the spies tell them, and doesn't ask awkward questions - just like in the "good old days" before Zaoui. But as we say in the Zaoui case, that sort of chummy relationship does not serve the public, and allows the spies to get away with mayhem. And in a democracy committed to the rule of law, that simply isn't acceptable.

I am concerned about the reference group, but only insofar as it is used to silence critics. The rules around what they are and are not allowed to say will have to be closely examined. But I have confidence that if there is any attempt to silence them (e.g. by forcing them to get security clearances, making them subject to s78AA of the Crimes Act and unable to read Wikileaks for the rest of their lives), then they will simply pull the plug and resign.