Human Rights Commission Report on Security and Intelligence
Human Rights Commission releases Report to Prime Minister on security and intelligence matters
The Human Rights Commission has released its report to the Prime Minister on the Government Communications Security Bureau and Related Legislation Amendment Bill, the Telecommunications (Interception Capability and Security) Bill and broader human rights matters regarding surveillance.
Chief Commissioner David Rutherford said the Commission used its direct reporting function under the Human Rights Act 1993 due to the seriousness of the proposed Bills’ measures and the need for proper oversight of the surveillance activities of intelligence agencies.
“The Commission is concerned that the proposed Bills are wide-reaching without sufficient safeguards against abuse of power. There is inadequate oversight and inadequate provision for ensuring transparency and accountability. The Commission notes media reports that these issues are matters of discussion between some of the leaders of political parties in New Zealand.
“The Commission recognises that some level of surveillance is inevitable and justifiable from a human rights perspective in a democratic society. However, surveillance can be subject to human rights principles, protecting human rights and limiting them only when proportionate and justified and in accordance with the law.
“The right to privacy is fundamental in a democracy and reinforces other fundamental rights, such as rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly. The proposed restrictions on the right to privacy are too general to be proportionate to the Bills’ objectives.
“We note that the Bills were introduced before the recent media exposure of the extent of mass surveillance by some States party to the Five Eyes arrangement. Public trust in Government intelligence agencies is at risk if surveillance activities aren’t being conducted appropriately and seen to be so.
“It is in the interests of our intelligence agencies to have appropriate transparency and accountability mechanisms in place to maintain public trust. We believe much of the public’s concerns could be alleviated if there was satisfactory oversight of surveillance powers and we propose an independent cross-party select committee to oversee intelligence agencies,” said Mr Rutherford.
The Commission’s report recommends:
A full and independent inquiry into New Zealand’s intelligence services be undertaken as soon as possible with terms of reference agreed on a cross-political party basis, to consider the role and function of our intelligence services, their governance and oversight mechanisms and to consider the balance between human rights and national security
Stronger accountability and oversight mechanisms, including Parliamentary oversight from a cross-party select committee, in addition to the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security
Amending the Bills in line with the submissions of the New Zealand Law Society and the Legislation Advisory Committee
Taking into account the submissions of Internet New Zealand, particularly as they relate to human rights
Human rights training for all members of New Zealand’s intelligence services
The full report is available on the Human Rights Commission’s website at http://www.hrc.co.nz/2013/human-rights-commission-releases-report-to-prime-minister-on-security-and-intelligence-matters
What human rights are affected by the Bills?
The Bills restrict the rights of freedom of expression, from non-discrimination, from unreasonable search and seizure, and to natural justice.
The Commission accepts that the Bills’ objectives are sufficiently important to justify some restrictions to these rights.
However, because these rights are fundamental to the functioning of a democratic society, the power to intrude on these freedoms must be subject to restraints. The legislation is overly broad and limits these rights more than necessary.
What is the Commission’s direct reporting function?
Section 5 of the Human Rights Act 1993 empowers the Human Rights Commission to report directly to the Prime Minister on:
• “any matter affecting human rights, including the desirability of legislative, administrative, or other action to give better protection to human rights and to ensure better compliance with standards laid down in international instruments on human rights” [5(2)(k)(i)]
• “the implications of any proposed legislation (including subordinate legislation) or proposed policy of the Government that the Commission considers may affect human rights” [5(2)(k)(i)]
Has the Commission used its direct reporting function before?
The Commission has used its direct reporting function three times before, reporting on the foreshore and seabed debate in 2003, the New Zealand Security Intelligence Service Amendment Bill in 2011 and the Canterbury earthquake recovery in 2012.