28 Mar 2021

SIS's more open approach makes risk appraisal easier - professor

8:25 am on 28 March 2021

The Security Intelligence Service is being praised for allowing more transparency with its information.

Man wearing hoodie hacking server in dark room

Photo: 123RF

The SIS's annual report has disclosed that a New Zealand citizen is working for a foreign state's intelligence services.

It found that the citizen is collecting intelligence against other citizens, who are viewed as dissidents by the foreign state's government, and passing it to that state's embassy here.

The report also outlines the level of extremist ideology in the country.

Roughly 60 percent of it is considered politically-motivated violent extremism, with the majority of that related to white identity extremism, including neo-Nazi ideologies, white supremacy, violent white nationalist, anti-government beliefs and involuntary celibacy ('Incel') beliefs.

About 40 percent of extremism is related to faith-motivated extremism.

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Alexander Gillespie Photo: Alexander Gillespie

Professor of Law at Waikato University Alexander Gillespie said that in the past the SIS has not shared enough information about threats.

Professor Gillespie said the SIS seems to be responding to the Royal Commission's comments it needed to better investigate threats, following the 2019 Christchurch mosque attacks.

"What you're seeing this year is more information than in the past and a greater level of detail. It's certainly an improved model.

"This is better because now we can measure much clearer than in the past where the real risks are in our society," he said.

The case of the citizen passing on information to a foreign national could present a legal grey area.

It is an unusual situation because the citizen is passing on an individual's information to a foreign power, not state secrets, Professor Gillespie said.

"There's going to be a gap in the law there because had they been stealing state secrets, it would be easy to prosecute them straight away."

This may equate to advanced privacy breaches, which may mean legislative change is needed so it can't happen again, he said.

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