16 Jul 2013

Another blow for PM's spy bill plan

9:48 pm on 16 July 2013

Prime Minister John Key's plan to rush spy legislation through Parliament has been dealt a blow by the Privacy Commissioner, who is recommending that it be delayed.

Marie Shroff says the Law Commission should be asked to investigate the most appropriate legislation to govern New Zealand's spy agencies.

Prime Minister John Key.

Prime Minister John Key. Photo: RNZ

If passed, the Government Communications Security Bureau Amendment Bill would make it legal for the country's foreign intelligence agency to spy on New Zealanders when assisting other law enforcement agencies.

In her submission on the bill, Marie Shroff said on Tuesday that the legislation should be postponed until it becomes clearer what powers the GCSB needs to carry out its role. Ms Shroff said its impact on people is potentially very significant and it is important to get the legislation right.

The Prime Minister has previously rejected calls by the Labour and Green parties for a wider review, accusing Opposition parties of playing politics with national security.

But Labour deputy leader Grant Robertson said on Tuesday that John Key is alone in opposing a review of intelligence agencies.

"The Privacy Commissioner is highlighting the fact that there are significant issues globally now about intelligence agencies, about the kind of data they collect, about privacy issues for ordinary New Zealanders."

Mr Robertson said this is important legislation and Mr Key should not be trying to ram it through Parliament.

New Zealand First leader Winston Peters agrees, saying Marie Shroff's advice should not be ignored and John Key should give up on the process now.

"He'll be better to slow down, try and talk to other political parties and other seriously interested parties like the Law Society and the Human Rights Commission and the Privacy Commissioner and try and get a law that is acceptable.

"Because where he's going at the moment is to a place that will be very uncomfortable for him. He cannot defend this."

Mr Peters said Ms Shroff was a long-time Cabinet Secretary and her submission is a serious blow to the Prime Minister's plan.

SIS costings sought

The Government has no idea what it would cost to have domestic spy agency the SIS eavesdrop on New Zealanders and intercept their emails, despite saying cost is the reason for getting the GCSB to do it.

A public policy researcher says Parliament's Intelligence and Security Committee should get the costing done before approving legislation giving the GCSB greater powers.

Simon Terry says the alternative is for the SIS to be given the capability to carry out that surveillance, but no analysis has been done of the cost. He has made a supplementary submission to the committee asking it to seek more advice.

Independent MP Peter Dunne also believes some analysis should be done of what it would cost the SIS to carry out the surveillance.

Prime Minister John Key, who chairs the committee, is on holiday in Singapore and not available for comment. Radio New Zealand's political staff say he is unlikely to agree to the request.