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Proposed GCSB legislation ruffling party leaders' feathers

Felix Marwick,
Publish Date
Tue, 16 Aug 2016, 5:25AM
(Getty Images).

Proposed GCSB legislation ruffling party leaders' feathers

Felix Marwick,
Publish Date
Tue, 16 Aug 2016, 5:25AM

UPDATED 11.39am New Zealand First's are making no indication yet of where it stands on the Government's newly released intelligence laws.

LISTEN ABOVE: Security expert Jim Veitch joins Rachel Smalley to discuss the GCSB law changes 

The Government's released new legislation that will apply to both the SIS and GCSB, and implements a new warrants system on them for their operations.

READ MORE: Proposed legislation will allow GCSB to spy on NZers 

Proposed new laws could see the SIS access peoples' details in Government databases with those affected not able to find out about it.

Security and intelligence consultant Jim Veitch told Rachel Smalley such a collaboration has been in the works for more than a decade.

"It's been a process of coming together over time since 9/11 and then since the Kim Dotcom case."

Party Leader Winston Peters said in terms of the drafting of the legislation, there was no meaningful consultation with his party.

"I think the issue of civil liberties and fundamental rights of New Zealand citizens is a paramount concern for any parliamentarian.

"We will study this legislation very, very carefully before we say what we're going to do."

Peters thinks the idea that all political parties be represented on the committee is wrong.

"I think we need to be able to put people in from either the government or the opposition side that New Zealanders can trust. But I think the idea that we all have the right to be on there is one that I seriously oppose."

While privacy principles have been considered in the Bill, SIS and GCSB Minister Chris Finlayson said people may not be able to find out if intelligence agencies have been accessing Government databases, such as immigration, births, deaths and marriages, and driver licensing, for their details.

That's of concern to Labour Leader Andrew Little who said "it's not reassuring".

"The powers that they are given need to be drafted in a way that is the source of assurance.

"That these powers are limited to what is needed to ensure national security and economic security interests."

The legislation requires the Attorney General, a role Finlayson holds, to sign off on type one intelligence warrants.

He doesn't see it creating a conflict of interest for him.

"I don't see that there's a conflict at the moment as an attorney general looking at issues of legality, making sure that the I's are dotted and the T's crossed in relation to an application - even though I am the minister responsible for the agencies."

Under the legislation, GCSB and SIS will be able to claim immunity from criminal and civil liabilities, including for some minor criminal infringements.

Little said it's an area that warrants scrutiny.

He's comfortable with the model used for police where immunity is given to allow operations to happen, saying it makes sense.

"There's got to be appropriate limits, checks and balances on that sort of thing. You don't want people given a license to break the law regardless."

Green Party hackles are rising over the Government's legislation and proposed political representation on the Intelligence and Security Committee.

While the size of the committee is to be increased both the Prime Minister, and Finlayson, said there's no guaranteed representation for all opposition parties on the committee.

"That's a matter that would be the subject of, as currently drafted, between the Prime Minister and the leader of the opposition," Finlayson said.

It's an arrangement that sits poorly with Green MP Kennedy Graham.

"The fact that he could give a casual shrug when it comes to legitimate representatives from the opposition not to be on it speaks a hell of a lot about the Prime Minister more than the intrinsic merits of the issue."

Graham said his party is not persuaded of its merits.

"On the face of it, we see nothing in the background of the bill or the bill itself that provides a compelling case to change the legislation or the current law and so our initial position is that we would be opposing it."

IT security expert Daniel Ayers told Mike Hosking the legislation simplifies the law - and that's good.

"We've criticised GCSB for interpreting the law incorrectly in the past, and so it makes sense to simplify the law so everyone's got a consistent idea of what it all means."

International relations professor Robert Patman said we need to make sure we have an increasingly robust way of watching the watchers.

Patman said the proposed legislation has limited provision for spy agencies' whistleblowers - who could face five years in prison unless they disclose information directly to the Government-appointed Inspector General.

He said it means in a sense, whistleblowers aren't getting the information out beyond the eyes of Government - which is normally a whistleblower's intention.

"They normally want people outside the circle of government, who are fellow citizens, to have such information. I think there may be demand, it may not come immediately, but I think there will be demand for strengthening oversight further than the government intends."

Patman said proposed spy legislation's emerged as the old distinction between foreign and domestic policy has slipped away - and will see increased powers to spy on New Zealanders.

He said the Government wants the SIS and GCSB spy agencies to work together, given the globalised terror threats.

"Bringing together under the one legislative framework to deal with new national security threats. I do think you have to be quite specific about what those national security threats are. I think that's probably some detail that needs to be expressed and clarified."

Patman said there's also a need for the agencies' watchdogs to have increasing independence from Government influence.

The legislation is going to be open for submissions, and will go before a Select Committee.

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