Politicians are failing in the oversight of our intelligence agencies

The NZ Council for Civil Liberties exists to help protect the civil liberties of New Zealanders from government overreach. A key area of concern is, and will always be, the actions of the state security forces such as the police and intelligence agencies. This is the sharp end of government power, where a government can exert force over people, spy on them, damage their reputation, or imprison them. 

Media Release: Scandalising the court is an attack on freedom of expression

After the Select Committee removed it in response to submissions, the government has surprised everyone by reintroducing the crime of "scandalising the court" in the now renamed Contempt of Court Bill

The Bill makes it an offence to undermine public confidence in the judiciary or the courts by publishing false statements, punishable by up to 6 months in jail or a fine of up to $25,000 ($100.000 for a body corporate).

Concern over Customs interrogating person over manuscript

The NZ Council for Civil Liberties views with concern the reports about NZ Customs stopping Matthew Blomfield at the border to interrogate him about a book manuscript he was carrying with him (original report is in a series of tweets from lawyer Felix Geiringer). We are further concerned with the description of that interrogation in that it appears to have involved the Customs officer making false claims about the extent of their powers.

In particular we are concerned that:

Report: Statistics NZ Data Summit 2018

NZCCL committee member Andrew Ecclestone went to the Statistics NZ Data Summit in 2018.

We’ll discuss balancing the tensions between data innovation and protecting privacy – ensuring New Zealanders have trust and confidence in the way their data is used. We’ll learn about data sovereignty from an international and New Zealand perspective. And we'll take an in-depth look at privacy, ethics and algorithms.

The Case for a Full Review of the Official Information Act

The NZCCL's submission in response to the call for submissions on reviewing the Official Information Act.


The NZ Council for Civil Liberties firmly believes that New Zealand's Official Information Act needs a comprehensive review.

Secret evidence is unjust and should be banned

Let's be clear about what secret evidence is. It's not evidence that can't be reported in the media, and it's not evidence where the judge clears the court of all people not directly participating in the trial.

Secret evidence is evidence that the defendant, the person accused of the crime, is not allowed to see or hear, and therefore cannot challenge. The use of secret evidence makes a mockery of our justice system.

Christchurch massacre and censorship

The Christchurch massacre has led to some new developments in the practice of censorship in New Zealand. This post is an attempt to record what happened and, while it does not make any judgements, there are some questions at the end.

The video

The attack was livestreamed and the video was quickly shared, removed, and then re-uploaded many times.

Letter re the failings of the warranting process for the SIS and GCSB

Minister for National Security and Intelligence

Minister Ardern,

The New Zealand Council for Civil Liberties would like to know what actions the Minister intends the Government to take in response to the Inspector General of Intelligence Services’ (IGIS) December 2018 report Warrants Issued Under the Intelligence and Security Act 2017.

Media release: Welcome prisoner voting decisions from the Supreme Court

The New Zealand Council for Civil Liberties welcomes the decision by the Supreme Court today, that the legislation that denied persons convicted and sentenced to a term of imprisonment of less than 3 years the right to vote, contravenes the protections provided in the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act.

Chairperson's Report 2018

It’s been an interesting year for civil liberties with events, particularly overseas, bringing up some new ways of looking at the meaning of freedom of speech in the digital age.

Issues and events in NZ

In New Zealand the freedom of expression issue was seen in the furore around the visit of Canadian provocateurs Laura Southern and Stefan Molyneux, and the cancellation of local politician Don Brash’s talk at Massey University.

Media release: Customs new powers an unjustified invasion of privacy

The NZ Council for Civil Liberties is disappointed to see the law allowing Customs to demand people unlock their digital devices coming into effect.

Media release: A Better Official Information Act

It has become a truism that that Official Information Act needs to be fixed. 

Ask any journalist and for every story where the Act is working well there are many more stories where it is not. There are delays upon delays, responses that don't answer questions, spurious use of withholding grounds, and even straight out refusals to release information. 

A Better Official Information Act

Our history

The Official Information Act is the legal expression of a very simple idea - we've got a right to know what our government is doing. The OIA is used every day by journalists, activists, the curious, and by people wanting to know about government actions and the policies that affect their lives. It has been a powerful tool for open and accountable government.

Media release: Immigration Minister called on to uphold New Zealand's human rights reputation

The Minister for Immigration, Iain Lees-Galloway, should ensure prominent human rights voices are able to be heard at the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) 2018 General Assembly in Auckland in August.

The New Zealand Council for Civil Liberties is concerned to learn that IHEU board members and speakers have had their visa applications refused or are still waiting for decisions after several months. (See Stuff article.)

Civil liberties and reasonable limits on freedom of expression

We support freedom of expression as a key civil liberty in a democratic society but recognise that this can reasonably be limited for the good of society. 
We believe that any such limits should be: made democratically, as minimal as possible, based in law, and administered fairly.
We understand that not all harms can be eliminated, particularly when the proposed limits are ineffectual or do more damage to society than the harms we're attempting to stop.

Media release: IGIS report ignores morality of NZ spying in South Pacific

Surveillance is a civil liberties issue says NZCCL

Media release: Disappointment as Government says it has no plans to reform the Official Information Act

Contrary to reporting last year, it seems that the Government currently has no plans to reform the Official Information Act.

Blog: No Double-Bunking, No Prison Expansion

Corrections is introducing double-bunking at Arohata Upper Prison.

The IGIS Reference Group: a toe inside the tent

As you may have heard, the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security has established a Reference Group and New Zealand Council for Civil Liberties chairperson Thomas Beagle is one of its eleven members.

I'd like to explain why we supported Thomas joining the Reference Group, and summarise the discussion and considerations of the Council's executive committee in coming to that decision.

Guest article: Public registers & privacy - NZ DNS introduces IRPO

Occasionally we publish guest articles about matters relevant to civil liberties in New Zealand. The following article discusses an important change in how people can register New Zealand domain names (.nz) while still maintaining their privacy.

The author, Kieran Reid, works at Freeparking, a domain registrar and web host company based in New Plymouth and Auckland.

Secret evidence unacceptable

The recent court case in Wellington where evidence was withheld from the defendant and their lawyer in the name of national security is highly concerning.

Official Information Act review requires public participation

We welcome the government's commitment to review the Official Information Act as part of a wider move to improve open government in New Zealand.

We have written to Clare Curran, the Minister for Open Government, and Andrew Little, the Minister of Justice, to discuss how this should be done, in particular:

Police backdoor access to private data

Once again it seems that the banks have been handing over private customer information to the Police. They handed over Kim Dotcom's, they handed over Nicky Hager's, and this time they've handed over information about activist and journalist Martyn Bradbury. And, as far as we know, they've handed over information for a lot of people that none of us have ever heard of.

Do the telephone companies store SMS texts?

The question came up online of whether New Zealand telephone companies store SMS text messages, and whether they then make them available, after the fact, to Police and intelligence agencies. (Note that interception warrants can be applied that capture all communications as they occur.)

We talked to Spark about their policies and they told us:

  • They keep the contexts of SMS messages for 30 days.
  • They keep call and SMS metadata (from, to, time duration) for 7 years.


Customs, compelled device unlocking, and PR spin

Stuff reports:

A new law means Customs will no longer be able to demand that people entering the country hand over the passwords to their devices without reasonable cause.

Why we support effective encryption

We know that encryption was on the agenda at the recent Five Eyes spy network meeting in Ottawa, with Australia taking the lead in calling for law enforcement and spy access to encrypted messages:

Restricting protests, not freedom of access

Who could oppose a Freedom of Access Bill? Don't we all want free access? However, it seems that the Local Government (Freedom of Access) Amendment Bill is rather misleadingly titled.

Letter to Peter Dunne re the failure of oversight of the DIA's internet filter by the IRG

Dear Peter Dunne,

We write to you in your capacity as the Minister of Internal Affairs.

The Facts

It has recently come to our attention that the Independent Reference Group, the body providing oversight of the DCEFS internet filter run by the Department, has not met since August 2015. 

According to an OIA response from Stephen Waugh, Manager Censorship Compliance, on 9th December 2016, this is because:

Government's "crime crystal ball" opaque on fairness

In Friday's New Zealand Herald we learn that the goverment has built a "crime crystal ball". The insights it yields by analysing data about victims of crime and criminals is being used to guide policy, on the assumption that it will show where money can be invested for the best results.

Don't be alarmed - domestic terrorism threat a false alarm

Consumers of news and social media yesterday may have been shocked to read of an apparent imminent threat of domestic terrorism. You should not be alarmed.