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GCSB: The Encroachment of the Mass Surveillance State

Public Notice: The Encroachment of the Mass Surveillance State

by Steve Edwards AKA Snoopman
August 19 2013

Powerful economic and political interests plan to heavily restrict democratic participation in New Zealand by legalising mass surveillance via the state apparatus.

Undermining democratic dissent

The proposed GCSB legislation seeks to undermine opposition to the activities of transnational corporations operating in NZ and to the policies and alliances of the New Zealand government. The GCSB bill shifts the mandate of the Government Communications Security Bureau from a purely ‘national security’ focus, to include ‘economic security’ by expanding the GCSB’s functions to contribute to the ’economic well-being’ of New Zealand.

Hidden in this expansion of spying power is a prejudice to target any individuals, groups or institutions that oppose big corporate and government interests in, for instance, land and sea mining, ‘free trade’ agreements and ‘free market’ austerity measures for surveillance. Remember the police spy and agent provocateur – Rob Gilchrist – who infiltrated New Zealand activist groups, such as Greenpeace, Save Happy Valley, the GE-Free Coalition, the anti-Iraq war movement and anti-poverty campaigners? As journalist Nicky Hager revealed, Gilchrist’s spying, which was directed by a police anti-terror squad, occurred over a 10 year period and undermined legitimate democratic organisation. Because the NZ Police had inside information, they were able to sabotage the protests by being able to spring the activists, make arrests, and shutdown the direct actions early. No one was held accountable for these breaches of universal human rights to freely associate and participate in the political life of New Zealand society (ratified, as they were, at the close of World War II).

Indeed, the recent legislative ban on protesting at sea highlights the Key government’s preference for ‘speed politics’ in order to serve corporate power. Like the current GCSB bill, which is being rushed through Parliament, an amendment to the Crown Minerals Bill to make protests at sea illegal was also hurried through. The sea protest ban emerged out of two private meetings between oil exploration interests and the National’s MPs, according to the Labour Party. The Crown Minerals Act bans protests on the sea within 500 metres of vessels and oil riggings in New Zealand waters. It’s crucial to remember that the country’s ‘nuclear-free NZ’ stance would not have occurred if it had been illegal to organise the flotilla’s on the Waitemata Harbour in the 1970s and 1980s to oppose US ship and submarine visits. It is therefore, ironic, in light of the current GCSB spy bill that the National government refuses to release the minutes of the private meetings that its MPs had with oil interests prior to the sea protest ban.

Expanded search warrant powers

The proposed GCSB legislation also broadens search warrants from an individual case basis to “classes of persons”, “classes of places” and “classes of information infrastructures”. Despite NZ prime minister John Key’s logically flawed claim on TV3s Campbell Live (14 August 2013) that, “It doesn’t matter what technology we use, the important thing is that it’s legal”, spy technologies can retrieve, sift and store data pertaining to people’s friends, whanau, workmates, clients, contacts and community affiliations. In essence, Key was claiming that neither the issues of technology nor the issues of law matter. According to the prime minister, all that matters is that this bill passes with a majority vote.

By making this claim, Key was not only dismissing people’s concerns about the invasive technology that the GCSB is using, such as XKeyscore (and would be authorized to use in the future). Key was also dismissing legitimate concerns about the law itself, such as the expansion of search warrants powers by multiple paths that various sections of the bill allow. In other words, Key was deliberately sidestepping the core issues by deceiving the public that none of the issues matter. To make this audacious lie, Key committed himself to a well-worked out strategy to downplay the technology used by the GCSB. The logical flaw in Key’s argument here, ironically, was that of ‘omissions of key evidence’, because the minister in charge of the GCSB refused to discuss the technology used. The other closely related logical fallacy that Key committed himself to make was that of ‘denying the counterevidence’ that TV3’s current affairs host, John Campbell, introduced. The counterevidence was that The Guardian newspaper reported that the US National Security Agency’s (NSA) ‘Five Eyes’ spy partners, which includes New Zealand’s GCSB, are using XKeyscore surveillance technology.

This means that intelligence analysts at the GCSB can use programs such as XKeyscore to create a historical digital picture of a person’s telecommunications activity. XKeyscore can be used to track the metadata (data logs of usage patterns) and content of a person’s emails, social media use, web browsing, transactions, texts and phone-calls to construct a network picture of a person’s life and everyone they interact with.

Importantly, Key repeatedly promoted the idea that New Zealanders could expect only nine individuals per year to be targeted for surveillance (if past trends continued). Unfortunately, Key was able to mislead the public with this claim regarding the extent of surveillance because John Campbell failed to challenge the prime minister on the broadened capacity of class-based search warrants that the GCSB bill would provide.

Together these changes mean that anyone who knows anyone who cares enough to challenge councils, governments and transnational corporations about an open, free society can also be targeted for surveillance of their communications, conversations and congregations.

Infringement Notice: Freely expressing human rights and needs

This bill would allow the GCSB and others agencies to legally and remotely spy on activist groups to assist the New Zealand government to sabotage citizens’ initiated protest. Increased powers to target activist groups for mass surveillance undermines their ability to stage successful actions which are crucial to gaining wider public support on important issues. If news audiences only see protestors being arrested, because the NZ Police have ‘the jump’ on their actions, then it will likely create the perception that ‘activists just do illegal stuff’ (which is a common perception among the Police, even senior ones). In other words, through this bill, the Police will gain the capacity to shutdown protest actions early. In the absence of much positive imagery of the action itself, negative images of activists being arrested will likely feed conveniently into an already dysfunctional commercial media system, with its pro-market bias, to marginalize protest. Ironically, this proposed mass surveillance net extends to journalists and other news media personnel, since many of their contacts are activists. Belatedly, some in the news media have expressed concern about the increased spy powers afforded to the GCSB in this proposed legislation. Some in the news media have recognised that mass state surveillance rolls-back a hard-won social construct that major news outlets have otherwise conditioned the mass populace to take for granted: ‘free and open’ society.

Protest, civil disobedience and other non-violent creative direct actions in allegedly ’free and open’ societies are an important peaceful means that citizens have to express opposition and influence councils, governments, and corporations in order to gain positive social-economic-political change. In effect, prime minister John Key is saying the right to privacy is to be decided by those among us privileged to do so, with undefined, nebulous terms that determine the functions of the GCSB such as ‘national security’, ‘economic well-being’, and ‘international relations and well-being of New Zealand’. In effect, key insiders of New Zealand’s capitalist class are extending the quarantine from surveillance to the super-wealthy, both foreign and domestic, in lock step with the world-wide state-sponsored Finanical-secrecy Haven Complex. The notable exception is the former MegaUpload founder, Kim Dotcom, who was illegally spied upon by the GCSB, even on the day of his arrest, ostensibly for breaching US copyright law.

Under the Radar: Key’s Justifications for the GCSB Bill

Prime minister John Key has justified the need for the Government Communications Security Bureau to be able to legally spy on people living in New Zealand because, there are, apparently, terrorists in our midst. Because he is able to invoke ‘national security’, he can also justify making this argument without providing any evidence, which is a logically flawed circular argument. The bill also directs the GCSB to contribute to ‘international relations and well-being of New Zealand’, and because the bill fails to define these terms, the inherent subjectivity is exacerbated. The unstated assumption of the bill is that New Zealand’s ‘Five Eyes’ spy partners, the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia and Canada are benign state-powers engaged in surveillance to genuinely keep the world secure from terrorism.

However, as Eugene Jarecki’s 2006 documentary Why We Fight compellingly argues, the United States has engaged in acts of terror to overthrow democratically elected governments nearly every year since 1945 all over the world. As Guido Giacomo Preparata demonstrates in his book Conjuring Hitler, Britain deliberately created the conditions to make war with Germany well before 1914, and devised a two global war strategy, with America’s conscious help. Similarly, William Engdahl argues in his books, A Century of War and Gods of Money, an American capitalist oligarchy and the US state saw the opportunity to emerge from these global conflicts as the world’s dominant military and financial empire, and devised its own belligerent strategy. Yet, these wars were ostensibly fought to uphold the value of ‘freedom’ that the ‘free world’ was meant to regard highly. Crucially, when we consider New Zealand’s “international relations” and “well-being”, NZ’s military alliances with Britain and America were solidly fortified in these global conflicts. For the record, it is pertinent to note that (to date) no major news outlets have published or broadcast retractions pertaining to the uncritically accepted, official versions for the causes of World Wars I and II. It’s as if no one in the mainstream media anywhere in the world reads scholarly, critical accounts of twentieth century history.

Furthermore, numerous scholars, journalists and professionals contest the official 9/11 terrorism narrative. Together their citizens’ initiated 9/11 investigations argue that the core official claims are implausible. Their investigations vary according to expertise, such as technical studies of: the near-free fall speed collapses of the three towers that imploded at the World Trade Centre; tracking the four hijacked flights; and presenting the more likely suspects. Among this group of 9/11 investigators, some posit that deep state criminal actors occupied key leadership, technical and planning positions within the United States corporate world and state apparatus, and orchestrated the terrorism of September 11, 2001. Because every state in the world failed in its duty to test the official 9/11 story, the Bush regime was able to launch a ‘global war on terror’. Indeed, 9/11 was used to justify increases in state surveillance worldwide. Yet, it needs to be remembered that when the mainstream media could no longer ignore the Bush regime’s justifications for America’s second War on Iraq were false, major news outlets everywhere, however, also failed to seriously question whether the reasons for the broader war – the Global War of Terror – were also false.

Back in Aotearoa, recall also that the New Zealand government capitulated to a terror-sponsoring state when, in July 1986, prime minister David Lange released two of France’s DGSE (Secret Service) agents for their part in the 1985 plot to bomb Greenpeace’s Pacific Ocean flagship, the Rainbow Warrior. Under French coercion, the two terrorists were sent to Hao Atoll, a French military base in French Polynesia to finish out their sentences, and were released within two years. The Lange government’s capitulation to coercion from France’s government, and the United Nation’s lack of resolve to pursue justice with the French state and its spy apparatus meant, in effect, that the world community tacitly endorsed state-sponsored terrorism. It was, therefore, truly ironic that New Zealand’s hard-fought stance against nuclear terror resulted in the buying-out of its government with a ‘compensation’ sum of $13 million. In essence, this face-saving exercise for the Lange Labour government amounted to furtherance of conspiracy, since the core of the criminal French group was left at-large.

Those who control the present, control the past and those who control the past control the future.
- George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-four (1949)

To sum up, we not only need to be able to keep our communications private. Before we consider investigating the public, we need full disclosure by the state powers with which New Zealand is aligned, of their covert histories. Such disclosure requires the world’s major and significant governments to open their secret records to the full scrutiny of the planet’s citizenry, so that these states cannot continue to hide their terrorism, conspiracies to make war and plots to globalise police states. The crimes against humanity, especially those committed by the governments of the United States and the United Kingdom, needs to be become common knowledge to the world (most especially to their domestic populations). To achieve this, the world’s Dumb-dee-doo muggles will have to become ballsy. For activists cannot build mass movements to retain rights and develop systems of economic and political autonomy, or self-determination, if mainstream people refuse to truly value what hard-won ‘freedoms’ we still have. In other words, the sentiment for the fallen on war remembrance days needs to change from ‘lest we forget’ to ‘best we learn’, so that it quickly becomes ‘now we know’.


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