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Why the NZ SIS Amendment Bill Needs to be Stopped.

Rugby and National Security are Just Pretexts - the NZ SIS Amendment Bill Needs to be Stopped.

By Annemarie Thorby, 7 December 2010.

In the name of 'National Security', and in the build-up to the Rugby World Cup, the government is pushing through a Bill to enhance the powers of the SIS. And John Key says, "We do not need to know what's happening."

There have been other amendments to the New Zealand Security Intelligence Service Act (1969) over the years, but this Bill is not a tweak here or there. This Bill is more of an overhaul. The legislation will, says Key, "...make the operation of the New Zealand SIS more effective and efficient....But for reasons of national security, I don't want to detail what those are."

In rushing through this Bill, the government is specifically ignoring the advice of the Privacy Commissioner. She stated that review of the security laws should take up to three years. Key either considers that the Rugby World Cup is more important than a careful consideration of any infringement of so-called 'civil liberties' and 'human rights' or he specifically wants to trample even more over those rights.

Before the rugby kicks off next year, the government wants the following powers in place for the SIS:

1. more use of electronic tracking devices, computer-based surveillance, and other technologies like cellphones and cyber identities. (This probably means that there is also a catch-all clause in the legislation comparable to the Residual Warrant Clause in the Search and Surveillance Bill. That is, a clause to allow surveillance to cover and use as yet uninvented technological developments.)

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2. protect SIS personnel and those acting under SIS warrants from legal liability, regardless of whether the warrant is for a NZ or foreign citizen. (Protection from liability only currently applies to domestic warrants. Another interesting phrase is 'those acting under SIS warrants' – the implication is that the SIS contracts out some of its work)

3. and amend rules around delegation powers for the Director of Security.

So what is the SIS?
The SIS was created in 1956, although their files date back to the waterfront dispute of 1951 and they have archives going back to 1919. They were established when the cold war was in full swing and one of the biggest threats was supposed to be the Soviet invasion.

The purpose of the SIS is to gather 'intelligence' on anything that threatens the 'national security' and to assess the risk posed. This means spying on anyone they consider a potential danger – from individuals (both NZ citizens and visitors, e.g Ahmed Zaoui, Keith Locke), to groups of people (HART, Greenpeace). There is very little parliamentary oversight of the SIS and there is no complaints process for the public. The director of the SIS is directly responsible to the Prime Minister.

The focus of the SIS appears to change according to what is currently en-vogue in terms of 'national threats'. In 1979, terrorism was added to espionage, sabotage, and subversion as a security risk in an amendment to the NZ SIS Act (1969). Economic well-being and international well-being were also later added.

The SIS goes through cycles of rapid growth. From the mid-1970s to 1983, during the times of the Land March, a Royal Tour, the Springbok Tour, and the 1980s land re-occupations, the SIS doubled in size. Another increase in the SIS budget was after the ‘war on terror’ began.

Over the years, there have been some amendments to the NZ SIS Act (1969). For example, in 1999 the SIS Act was amended to retrospectively legalise searches of private premises and homes. In 1996 the SIS were caught red-handed in the act of burgling Aziz Choudry's home. Aziz, a Christchurch activist, sued the SIS but after several hearings the court turned down his case – it found that judges have no place in matters of 'national security', the SIS had argued that the court-case jeopardised an unspecified on-going operation. However, Aziz was later awarded a substantial amount in an out-of-court settlement.

It is interesting to note that in the few recent cases of actual 'terrorism' in NZ, the SIS were taken by surprise. Someone bombed the Wellington Trades Hall in 1984, killing unionist and cleaner Ernie Abbot. And when the French government bombed the Rainbow Warrior in 1985, the SIS were also nowhere to be seen. But that was most probably because they were too busy spying on Greenpeace to notice the foreign secret agents working within Greenpeace – or maybe they just turned a blind eye to them.

According to the SIS leaflet available on their web-site, most people should have nothing to fear from them. They only work "in a manner that is both lawful and proportionate. We do not investigate institutions or individuals solely because of their faith, creed, nationality or ethnicity or because they engage in lawful protest activity."

However, anyone reading the SIS archives and files made public over the last few years, would not have much faith in the words printed on any SIS leaflet. The SIS files show that the SIS have been snooping on a variety of people around NZ. Basically anyone who holds a Tino Rangitiratanga flag or attends a left-wing meeting is liable to get noticed by the SIS. If you oppose the government or work to bring change to the system, it is highly likely that you will be under surveillance at some stage of your life.

The Rugby World Cup and 'National Security' are just a pre-text to rush through more legislation that further enhances SIS powers to snoop and spy. It is yet another example of legislation that the NZ Law Commissioner warned us against twenty years ago when he said that, “The danger is that States will over-react… [I]t is possible to imagine government officials doing more to destroy democracy in the name of counter-terrorism than is presently likely to be achieved by terrorists themselves.” [NZLC R22 Wellington 1991].

The NZ SIS Amendment Bill needs to be stopped. Rather than expanding the powers of the SIS, we should be curtailing them and seriously reviewing their role in this country.


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