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How are security agencies keeping us safe?

Monday, May 25, 2018

How concerned should we be about threats to our security – from terrorists to cyber hacking? What are the boundaries for our intelligence agencies when it comes to protecting the safety of citizens while respecting personal privacy?

Two Massey University experts will share their different perspectives on New Zealand’s security and intelligence issues in a public lecture this week in Auckland.

Dr Damien Rogers and Dr Rhys Ball, who both lecture in the Centre for Defence and Security Studies at the Auckland campus, will draw on their academic research as well as work experiences across various government security, defence and intelligence-related agencies.

Dr Rogers says the credibility and reputation of the intelligence services has been damaged in recent years, and agencies need to restore public trust in their organisations after incidents such as the 2012 raid on German internet entrepreneur Kim Dotcom and subsequent fallout.

Among the new concerns he will discuss are the extensive powers under the Intelligence and Security Act 2017 for agencies to access personal information from a wide range of public sector, financial and health databases, as well an increased move to target minority groups – including Muslims – for surveillance. He points out that the under new act, security and intelligence agencies have a broader brief, which now exist not just to protect New Zealand’s national security but extends to include our international relations and economic wellbeing.

Dr Rogers will also examine former Prime Minister John Key’s legacy in shaping a new era of heightened surveillance measures in New Zealand, with the rationale of threats from Middle East terror organisation Islamic State (IS) as the primary justification, as well as what he sees is a new focus on surveillance of domestic, rather than overseas targets.

Dr Ball brings an alternative perspective and says the number one goal of New Zealand’s security and intelligence service is “to be ahead of the threats.”

The lack of terror incidents or assassinations to date in this country is a measure of success in this regard, he says. But emerging threats, especially in the realm of cyber-espionage and hacking present new challenges.

The need to balance intelligence gathering, surveillance methods and access to personal information with protecting individuals’ rights to privacy to maintain an open, democratic society is crucial, says Dr Ball. But he feels there is a historical tendency in New Zealand to “overdramatise” public fears about mass surveillance, and that agencies are complaint with legislation that limits their powers to respond to threats.

He says there are an estimated 30 to 40 people currently on a key watch list in New Zealand deemed to be potential security threats.

“In fact, more and more public institutions and organisations – from police and customs to health, banking, insurance and agricultural sector organisations – are seeking advice on strategic intelligence advice in an era of complex data management systems and an awareness of cyber threats,” he says.

Speaker bios


Dr Damien Rogers teaches papers on Contemporary International Conflict, Security and the Law, and the Law of Armed Conflict. Before entering academia, he spent nearly a decade working within New Zealand’s intelligence community, including at the Government Communications Security Bureau, Ministry of Defence, New Zealand Defence Force, and the Border Security Group of Immigration New Zealand.

Dr Rhys Ball is a former intelligence officer with over 10 years’ experience working in intelligence and security organisations, both in New Zealand and overseas. He completed his master’s degree in Strategic Studies from Victoria University, and his 2009 doctoral thesis examined New Zealand Special Forces operations during the Vietnam War. He has have lived and worked in Wellington, London, Washington, Canberra and, more recently, Dar el Salaam (Tanzania), before joining Massey in 2013.

Our Changing World lecture - Watching over you: surveillance and security in New Zealand 6.30pm: Thursday 28 June 2018 | Sir Neil Waters Lecture Theatre building

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