The Human Rights Foundation has told the Intelligence and Security Committee that it has major concerns regarding aspects of the Government Communications Security Bureau and Related Legislation Amendment Bill 2013. Under the bill the GCSB will be entitled to keep under surveillance NZ citizens and permanent residents in certain circumstances that are not permitted at present.
This represents yet another extension of State Surveillance, something which, in the Foundation’s view, requires a compelling justification. Surveillance is not only potentially highly-intrusive of the privacy of individuals. It also may have a chilling effect on their exercise of other fundamental rights and freedoms, for example, the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, and association.
These rights are recognised both under international human rights law, in particular the UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights 1966, which the NZ government ratified in 1978; and in the NZ Bill of Rights Act 1990.
Other concerns with the bill include –
- the change in the GCSB’s ‘objective’ from a clear focus on ‘foreign intelligence’ to a much broader ‘intelligence’ role, something which appears to convert the Bureau into a hybrid version of the already-existing primary domestic intelligence agency, the NZSIS
- the significant extension to the GCSB’s functions (new sections 8A-8C)
- the potential for the GCSB to collect what is known as ‘metadata’ relating to NZ citizens and permanent residents
- the omission of any requirement for there to be detailed annual reporting on the number of times the GCSB ‘co-operates’ with any other agency
- the limiting of the basic premise underpinning the GCSB’s operations, as contained in section 14 of the 2003 Act belatedly placing the agency on a statutory basis, that it is not entitled to spy on New Zealand citizens and permanent residents. This is now to apply only to the GCSB’s ‘foreign intelligence’ function.
In our view, omissions in the bill include –
- the absence of additional safeguards when foreign intelligence agencies are involved
- the absence of any power for the Privacy Commissioner to conduct ‘unscheduled audits’ of how the GCSB’s new policy on personal information is operating
- the fact that the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security (and the new Deputy I-G IS) are not to be given the status of officers of parliament (cf, the Auditor-General; the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment)
- the absence of adequate changes to the role and powers of the Intelligence and Security Committee so that it can play an effective role as the principal form of parliamentary oversight of the GCSB’s activities.