22 Jun 2013

New bill extends GCSB spying powers - Labour

3:30 pm on 22 June 2013

The Government has been criticised for releasing Cabinet papers on new spy legislation just a day before public submissions on the bill closed.

Green Party co-leader Russel Norman says the way the Government has gone about the process shows it has a deep cynicism towards basic democratic principles.

"Basic democratic principles say that you should be allowed to see the official papers before you write your submission to a committee, and clearly the Government hasn't really given people a real opportunity to do that."

The Greens, Labour and the internet freedom group, Tech Liberty, say the papers confirm the Government is giving the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) greater powers to spy on New Zealanders.

Public submissions on the bill closed on Friday.

Labour's deputy leader, Grant Robertson, says the papers should have been released earlier so those making submissions could have taken them into account.

The bill is being rushed through Parliament to allow the GCSB to legally spy on New Zealanders on behalf of police, the Defence Force and the Security Intelligence Service.

Grant Robertson.

Grant Robertson. Photo: LABOUR PARTY

It also allows the GCSB to delve more deeply into information systems in order to help prevent cyber attacks on New Zealand.

Prime Minister John Key has said that the legislation simply clarifies what the GCSB can already do.

But Labour's deputy leader Grant Robertson says the papers confirm his fears the legislation will give the electronic spy agency greater powers to monitor New Zealanders, particularly online communications, and they prove there is cause for concern.

"They talk about the fact that they need to clarify and modernise the law, but in modernising the law they are extending the powers of the GCSB, particularly in the question of cyber security.

"They've invented a whole new class of work called access authorisation that appears to allow them to look into systems and the development of information infrastructures."

Mr Robertson says that is not going to increase public confidence in the spy agency.

His view echoes that of the internet freedom group Tech Liberty, which says the Cabinet papers make it clear that the legislation will vastly expand the GCSB's powers.

Spokesperson Thomas Beagle says the Cabinet papers seem to treat the changes as small, but they are not. He says the agency is getting much greater powers to spy on New Zealanders and use that information.

Green Party co-leader Russel Norman says the Government seems prepared to allow more spying on the basis that people are guilty until proven innocent.