Monday, May 27, 2013

Neazor changing his mind

The Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security Paul Neazor has arguably definitely changed his mind in the last eight months about the illegal spying of the GCSB.

In September 2012, he was asked by the Prime Minister to investigate the spying on Kim Dotcom. In his report, he came to the following conclusions:
The GCSB is controlled by its governing Act in what it may do. That Act makes it clear that the Bureau is intended to collect foreign intelligence only, but that includes the function of assisting the Police by gathering foreign intelligence for the purpose of preventing or detecting serious crime.
"Foreign intelligence only" and no mention of any ambiguity in the law, even when the GCSB is assisting the police. As far as consequences for the GCSB are concerned, he recommended: 
There will need to be alertness that … the wording of the provisions of the GCSB Act are controlling.
The result was a public apology by John Key: “Of course I apologise to Mr Dotcom, and I apologise to New Zealanders.” Key said he was “appalled” that the GCSB had “failed at the most basic of hurdles.”

All that has changed. Spying on Dotcom was failing a basic hurdle, but spying on 88 others was “arguably legal”. In September, the GCSB needed to learn that its Act was “controlling” – now the same Act is ambiguous and needs reform.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The arguably ambiguous GCSB Act

The Inspector-General of Security and Intelligence, Paul Neazor, yesterday finished his inquiry into the GCSB’s illegal spying on NZ residents and citizens. The report has not been made public, instead the GCSB issued a press release.

Whether this press release includes all findings of Neazor’s report, or whether the GCSB has filtered it to show only those findings that are favourable, is not known. It is also unclear whether the report will ever be made public. But according to the GCSB, Neazor “is of the view that there were arguably no breaches and the law is unclear.”

That seems difficult to comprehend – if the law is unclear, how can one come to the conclusion that  it wasn’t breached?

If the GCSB is correct in its summary of the report, this wouldn’t be the first time that Neazor has found that a NZ spy agency has done nothing wrong. In 2005, Neazor found that allegations published by Scoop and the Sunday Star Times that the SIS had been spying on the Maori party were without base, and he came to the conclusion that the papers had been duped.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Guide to applying to the GCSB for your file

Anyone who is interested in finding our whether they are one of the 88 people who have been spied on illegally by the GCSB since 2003 can write to them and request their information under the Privacy Act. Below is a basic letter template that can be copied:


Date

Government Communications Security Bureau
PO Box 12209
Thorndon
Wellington 6144


To whom it may concern:

REQUEST FOR INFORMATION UNDER THE PRIVACY ACT

Under the terms of the Privacy Act, I am requesting all information held by the GCSB about me.


Yours sincerely,

Name
Date of birth
Address (PO Box is OK)

Saturday, May 18, 2013

How the GCSB's illegal spying got exposed

Currently, there are new laws before parliament that will allow the GCSB to do what it was previously not allowed to do - to spy on NZers. Below is some background information.  

Operation Debut
When on January 20, 2012 the police operation “Debut” descended on Kim Dotcom’s modest cottage in Coatesville, his communications had been intercepted for some time. The subsequent court hearings revealed that it wasn’t the police who had done the spying, but another, unnamed agency.

In September, it became clear that the GCSB, NZ’s foreign spy agency, had been involved in the spying on Dotcom. His lawyers argued that this had been illegal, because the GCSB Act of 2003 clearly states that the GCSB is not allowed to spy on NZ citizens and residents. Dotcom was a NZ resident at the time, but the GCSB claims that his residence status at the time wasn’t clear.
As a result, John Key – as the Minister in charge – asked the Inspector-General of Security and Intelligence (IGSI), Paul Neazor, to compile a report into the matter. Neazor came to the conclusion that the police and the GCSB had been confused about Dotcom’s residence status and had therefore unwillingly acted illegally. Neazor did not think the GCSB Act was ambiguous, in fact he recommended that the GCSB should be alerted to the fact that “the wording of the provisions of the GCSB Act are controlling”. As a result, Key apologised “to Mr Dotcom, and … to New Zealanders.”

The Kitteridge Report
Also in September, the government commissioned Rebecca Kitteridge to review the GCSB’s handling of the matter. Her report, published in March 2013, is damning. It reveals that since 2003, the GCSB had spied illegally on 88 other NZ residents or citizens, in most cases at the request of the SIS.

The report found that the GCSB has no policies and procedures in place to check if what it does complies with the law. Its part-time legal advisor for 15 years, Hugh Wolfensohn, hardly ever asked for advice from the Crown Law Office. No one ever analysed if the GCSB was affected by other legislation or if the use of new surveillance technology was within the law. There was essentially no record keeping. One of the most worrying aspects is that the GCSB seems to have signed international treaties without the government knowing.

Kitterridge attributes that to an ambiguous law, underfunding, a lack of management structure and a lack of oversight, and she assumes that the GCSB would like nothing more than to change that. This seems a little naïve and it misses a key point. It is quite possible that the GCSB was quite happy with not having the resources to check legal issues. And it is precisely the secretive nature in which the GCSB and the SIS operate that breeds a culture of “we can do what we want”.

Usually, the minister in charge is held responsible for the actions of their department – but not so in this case. John Key, as the Minister for Intelligence and Security, has not accepted responsibility for the GCSB débâcle, nor have Labour or the Greens called for that.


New laws
Instead, the government has responded with the “GCSB and Related Legislation Amendment Bill”, which passed its first reading under urgency on May 8. (The  regulatory impact statement for the Bill was written on 22 March).  Its main change to the GCSB Act consist of removing the word “foreign” from the Act in order to allow precisely what the previous version expressly ruled out: that the GCSB can be used to spy on NZ citizens and residents. One of the roles of the GCSB is to assist the SIS and the Police, the argument being that not doing so would mean that expensive surveillance equipment would have to be duplicated across the agencies and that would be inefficient. Therefore the GCSB should be able to spy on NZers when assisting other agencies. Human rights are compromised in the name of efficiency – an extremely dangerous thing to do.

Other changes in the Bill are that the Inspector-General of Security and Intelligence will get a deputy (until now, the 79-year-old he has been all by himself) and can now conduct random checks with the GCSB. This falls considerably short of the recommendation of the Kitterridge report, which asked for a structure similar to that in Australia, which as 12 staff.

Another planned change is to the Telecommunications Interception Capabilities Act. The definition of a ‘telecommunications provider’ is supposed to be widened to include so-called “over-the-top” services, such as Skype. The government argues that because Skype enables people to have phone conversations, it must be subject to the same rules as other organisations that provide phone services. Consequently the state wants to be able bug Skype conversations in the same way it can bug regular phone calls.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Submissions on the GCSB Bill

The government’s reaction to the damning report about the GCSB by Rebecca Kitteridge was to introduce the “GCSB and Related Legislation Amendment Bill”. It passed its first reading under urgency on May 8, 2013.

Its main change to the GCSB Act consist of removing the word “foreign” from the Act in order to allow precisely what the previous version expressly ruled out: that the GCSB can be used to spy on NZ citizens and residents. One of the roles of the GCSB is to assist the SIS and the Police, the argument being that not doing so would mean that expensive surveillance equipment would have to be duplicated across the agencies and that would be inefficient. Therefore the GCSB should be able to spy on NZers when assisting other agencies. Human rights are being violated in the name of efficiency – an extremely dangerous thing to do.

Other changes in the Bill are that the Inspector-General of Security and Intelligence will get a deputy (so far he has been all by himself) and can now conduct random checks with the GCSB. This falls considerably short of the recommendation of the Kitterridge report, which asked for a structure similar to that in Australia, which has 12 staff.

Below is the official blurb about the GCSB Bill. Submissions can be made to the Intelligence and Security Committee at GCSB.Bill@parliament.govt.nz by Thursday, 13 June 2013.

Government Communications Security Bureau and Related Legislation Amendment Bill

The bill is an omnibus bill that proposes amendments to the Government Communications Security Bureau Act 2003, the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security Act 1996, and the Intelligence and Security Committee Act 1996. The purposes of the bill are to make clear the statutory framework governing the activities of the GCSB and to enhance the external mechanisms for the oversight of the New Zealand's intelligence agencies. The Intelligence and Security Committee is inviting submissions on the bill. The closing date for submissions is Thursday, 13 June 2013. A copy of the bill and the regulatory impact statement can be accessed from the downloads panel on this page. Submissions can be emailed to GCSB.Bill@parliament.govt.nz. If you wish to appear before the committee, state this clearly and provide a name, daytime phone number, and email address. Submissions will generally be made public. The committee is required to report to the House on this bill by 26 July 2013.

The Bill can be downloaded here.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

GCSB & the lives of others: Public meeting

Public meeting on the surveillance by the GCSB

You are warmly invited to a public meeting on Monday, May 27 at 6pm at the Mezzanine Meeting room of the Wellington Central Library to discuss the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB), the illegal surveillance it conducted, the law change being made to legalise its unlawful activities and the role of the GCSB in the US global surveillance network.

Speakers:
Nicky Hager - author of the book Secret Power which exposed the secrecy of the GCSB
Keith Locke - who has been spied on by the state since he was 10 years old
Michael Bott - member of the NZ Council for Civil Liberties