Scoop Election 08: edited by Gordon Campbell

Gordon Campbell on Peter Dunne’s illusory gains on the GCSB Bill

July 23rd, 2013

In a week that will see nationwide protests against the GCSB, the politics of the passage of the agency’s governing legislation remain as polarized as ever. Now that Peter Dunne has re-assumed his usual posture as the government’s reliable footstool, this has given Prime Minister John Key the one vote majority he needs to get the spy agency’s new legislation through Parliament. The changes that Dunne has won as a pre-condition of his support could hardly be more token – apparently there will be warranted provision for such surveillance activities (always a rigorous process, right?) after-the-fact annual statistics on its spying actions, and an “independent” review of the legislation in 2015, and every five years or so thereafter. A review appointed by government, naturellement. Oh, and such things as medical records will apparently be exempt from the GCSB’s surveillance – unless of course, the needs of national security require otherwise.

Talk about a missed opportunity. Dunne could have demanded a coherent rationale for why the GCSB needs to be empowered to spy on all New Zealanders. Yet from asset sales to spying, Dunne has never been in the business of holding the government to account. In this case, almost all the gains by Dunne are retrospective in nature, even though they relate to forms of mass surveillance that infringe on the rights to privacy and the presumption of innocence that should exempt ordinary citizens and their phone, email and Internet activities from the attentions of the security services. In the light of such extensions of state power, Dunne’s gains look entirely cosmetic.

Regardless, Dunne seems content with ensuring an inquiry occurs afterwards about how the GCSB has been using its new powers to spy on all of us. Keep in mind that such an inquiry would not, of course, be able to inquire into any operational secrets about how and when and on whom and for whom the GCSB has been doing its actual spying. As an oversight mechanism, this inquiry will necessarily be of the “eyes wide shut” variety.

Now that the GCSB’s new spying powers have been guaranteed safe passage through Parliament, the sole remaining question is whether Winston Peters will also belatedly climb on board, waving his own meaningless pieces of paper conditions. While Peters has made more noise about the violation of ‘fundamental rights” that the GCSB Bill entails, he has also – like Dunne – fiddled around the edges with “oversight” measures virtually guaranteed to be ineffectual. Peters’ main pre-conditions have hinged on substituting a three person advisory panel for the current, solitary role of the Inspector-General. Key has already signalled his acceptance of that idea in principle, and has likened it to the functioning of the Reserve Bank Board.

Again, such an ‘oversight” panel is designed to be captured. It would be appointed by the government, would have no independent funding, research staff, or investigative powers, or access to the operations it would be supposed to be monitoring. Peters’ actions are never safe to predict, but he may well eventually join the government and add to its majority on the GCSB Bill. Reason being, his preconditions – or at the least the ones he has stated so far – are fairly easy for the government to meet. On national security issues, it is hard to see Peters standing resolutely in opposition alongside Labour and the Greens.

Politicking aside, the substantive concerns raised by Internet NZ and the Human Rights Commission – that the Bill creates a system of potential mass surveillance, remain. We know from the US evidence what those systems can create – a “three hops” system whereby being a friend of a friend of a friend of an alleged terrorist can expose you to spy agency scrutiny of your private communications.

According to an NSA slide published by the Washington Post, the agency had more than 117,000 “active surveillance targets” in a database associated with the PRISM collection system revealed by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. The slide doesn’t specify whether this means that more than 117,000 people were actively being surveilled. But generally, a target refers to a single individual.

Now assume that each one of those 117,000 targets communicates with five others. That’s 585,000 people in the first hop. Assume that those folks all have five contacts, and you get 2,925,000 in the second hop. But it’s the third hop where the numbers start getting ridiculous: again, assuming each target only communicates with five others, and you’re at 14,625,000. Assuming that there’s no overlap in contacts, this will bring the total number of people in the net to more than 18 million. True, many of us share contacts, which would lower the number. But then, do you know anyone who has only five contacts? In reality, the number would be much higher than 18 million.

And this, the NSA says, is how it determines if someone is “reasonably believed” to be involved in terrorism.

For a government elected partly on campaigning against Nanny State intrusions, the GCSB Bill is indefensible, in its current form.


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    1. 19 Responses to “Gordon Campbell on Peter Dunne’s illusory gains on the GCSB Bill”

    2. By Pete George on Jul 23, 2013 | Reply

      “Yet from asset sales to spying, Dunne has never been in the business of holding the government to account.”

      Incorrect. I was personally involved in holding National to account when they tried to introduce a provision for selling more than 49% shares of an asset.

      And in particular…
      “Any additions beyond the Police, SIS and NZ Defence Force will now be required to be made by a specific amendment to the legislation, and not just by regulation as the Bill currently proposes”
      …is also holding to far better account, as do some of the other transparency provisions.

      “that the Bill creates a system of potential mass surveillance, remain”
      – Key has said it won’t do that in several statements, and he said he will give more detail in his second reading speech.

    3. By Elaine Hampton on Jul 23, 2013 | Reply

      New Zealand people – Done – again by Dunne & co.

      Account, transparency, this doesn’t mean what I mean by these words – clever yes, just means that self justification is more articulate not honest.
      This country is sleep walking into a disaster, what is he protecting? not a livable pension for sure

    4. By donna on Jul 23, 2013 | Reply

      “that the Bill creates a system of potential mass surveillance, remain”
      – Key has said it won’t do that in several statements…

      Oh look! There’s a pink pig flying past the window.

      Welcome to the surveillance state. Just one thing: who or what are we protecting, exactly?

    5. By Dow on Jul 23, 2013 | Reply

      Fascism by another name. This is where sucking up to power gets you – so much further than the ‘nanny state’ National railed against. NZ has truly become a dictatorship in all but name.

    6. By Pete George on Jul 23, 2013 | Reply

      At least it is now being discussed openly. Previously it had all been done in secret, Helen Clark would never talk about it. So we have taken a step or two forwrd on this.

      If the harvesting of local data without a warrant or for another country can be explicity ruled out we will have taken a big step forward.

      It is Key’s responsibility to address this, not Dunne’s.

    7. By Jackp on Jul 23, 2013 | Reply

      I don’t agree with you about Winston Peters. He’s not going to support the bill. Key doesn’t have to ask for Peters’s support because Dunne sold out again. I think this posture is more academic at this stage. Where is Labour? Why doesn’t Shearer take a more active stance rather than a reactive stance. Shearer could state that Labour will reverse this bill to regain our civil liberties… but nothing like that on the table, why?

    8. By Andrew R on Jul 23, 2013 | Reply

      Mr George

      Our prime minister is lying (again) with his claims that the legislation doesn’t allow a surveillance state or that the GCSB Bill doesn’t increase GCSB powers.

      And Peter Dunne is deluded if he thinks he has made a deal that will change that.

    9. By Pete George on Jul 23, 2013 | Reply

      ” that the legislation doesn’t allow a surveillance state ”

      Andrew, please advise where in the legislation that is allowed.

      I haven’t seen Key claim the bill doesn’t increase GCSB powers. Where has he done that?

    10. By Jenny Cark on Jul 23, 2013 | Reply

      All we all have to do is cc the Prime Minister into ALL our emails and then the GCSB wouldn’t have to spy on us. Maybe we could BCC the GCSB as well to save them the trouble. A few million emails a day would keep them busy enough! Let’s do it!

    11. By David H on Jul 24, 2013 | Reply

      Oh look Pete George spreading his lies all over the place. Dunne is NOT to be trusted. This is the beginning of a stitch up to get Dunny back into Parliament and PG’s greatest fantasy is that Dunny takes him into parliament for being such loyal TROLL. Personally I would suspect that he would make Aaron Gilmour look truthful!

    12. By Jeremy Anderson on Jul 24, 2013 | Reply

      In Honolulu in 1985 US Customs informed me that I belonged to Greenpeace and HART. The nice bloke was interested in what HART was so I told him. When I asked how he knew, “You paid subs and they paid tax.” All done on a computer that no one could even turn on now. So they have always spied. Badly. Why are there drug gangs and child trafficking if they have known everything and can track all of us? Either they are beyond incompetent or they do not want to stop this stuff. Take your pick.

    13. By paleo martin on Jul 24, 2013 | Reply

      Well,we wonder how Dunne can bear to look at himself in the mirror.
      Any modicom of honour that he may have had is now completely gone.
      Time he stopped floating and resigned from parliament.

    14. By David Lawrence on Jul 24, 2013 | Reply

      @ Jeremy Anderson
      Of course they don’t stop “this stuff”. Stopping child trafficking or gangs or paedophiles or any similar Nightly News Nasties requires actual funding to utilise the information that will be gathered. You can (and they do) have all the information they want, but unless someone can work out a way to convince the Government to pay for the leg work to *use* that information, it wont be. And it’s not leg work that gets them sexy headlines in the papers, so they’re not going to be in a rush to pay for it.

    15. By rob on Jul 25, 2013 | Reply

      what a brilliant idea! maybe we could also BCC every politician that votes to increase spying on the New Zealand public

    16. By rob on Jul 25, 2013 | Reply

      while we are on the subject of spying , i notice that i have blocked 4 companies from spying on me on this webpage.
      they are Google Adsense,comscore beacon,and netratings site census.
      we are being spied upon from every angle.

    17. By RJL on Jul 25, 2013 | Reply


      The differences being that a) you supposedly have the capability to “block” Google et al from “spying” on you and b) Google et al, whilst being very large powerful corporations, are not states.

      Large corporations gathering private data about you (with or without your permission) is problematic in itself, but not anything like the problems of a state doing so.

    18. By TeKupu on Jul 25, 2013 | Reply

      Dunne – spineless! This comes from the guy that was spied (by accessing Dunne’s emails illegally) on by John Key! Mr Sellout will go down in political history as nothing short as an MP with no ethics/morals or backbone!

    19. By richarquis on Jul 26, 2013 | Reply

    20. By pietrad on Aug 8, 2013 | Reply

      The ‘Velvet Monkey Wrench’at work indeed.
      Let’s do it!!!

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