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.

NZ Council for Civil Liberties Chairperson's Report 2016

I've been Chairperson of the NZ Council for Civil Liberties for two years now and therefore it's time for my second chairperson's report.

It's been a fairly quiet year for the council. We have contributed to some issues but others we have had to let pass by without anyone providing a civil liberties perspective. It's been heartening to see groups such as JustSpeak (criminal justice reform) and the HRLA (Human Right's Lawyers Association) speak on some of these.

Initial reaction to the New Zealand Security & Intelligence Bill

The new Security and Intelligence Bill does a lot.

The huge scope is why we're still working on our analysis of the Bill and what it means for civil liberties.

But we do have some initial reactions.

Resources: NZ Intelligence & Security Bill Government has just announced the introduction of the NZ Intelligence & Security Bill 2016. This is a complete replacement of four existing laws based on the recommendations of the Intelligence Review.

This article is a collection of links to the current and proposed law, the reports, and articles and commentaries about the changes.

The 5th Eye film makers respond to Privacy Commissioner

We at the Council of Civil Liberties enjoy a good blog post as much as the next person, and were interested to see Privacy Commissioner John Edwards' take on new documentary The 5th Eye which premiered recently at the New Zealand International Film Festival in Wellington.

Guest post: Strip searches in prisons - force and gender discrimination

In this second of two articles, guest blogger Mark Hanna analyses recent data revealed on strip searches of New Zealand prisoners. How is force used in these searches, and are transgender prisoners being systematically discriminated against and mistreated?

Guest post: Strip searches in prisons - what is reasonable?

Guest blogger Mark Hanna analyses recent data revealed on strip searches of New Zealand prisoners. Are these searches both lawful and moral? Do we want a justice system which dehumanises prisoners?

Liberty Watch April-May 2016

Round up of civil liberty news for April and May.

Speech: It's about power, not privacy


Speech given by NZCCL chairperson Thomas Beagle to the Rotary Forum - The Privacy Security Dilemma.


I'm not here to talk about privacy, I'm here to talk about power.

It's become increasingly clear to me that privacy, while important, is not a sufficient lense with which to look at the changes that are happening as human society digitises itself.

AboutMe is to privacy as FYI is to the OIA

The New Zealand Privacy Commissioner has launched a new tool, AboutMe, to help people request their personal infomation from a wide range of government agencies and businesses.

Libertywatch March 2016

Round up of civil liberty related news in March 2016.

Libertywatch February 2016

Round up of civil liberty related news from February 2016.

Criminal Justice

More prison cells could be 'double-bunked'

Up to 130 more prison cells could be "double-bunked" to cope with an unexpected increase in the prison population, Corrections chief Ray Smith said while facing questions in a select committee about plans to cope with a record-high prison muster. 

The gaping hole at the heart of the Intelligence Review

The need to maintain both security and the rights and liberties of New Zealanders has been at the forefront of our minds.

If your report into the intelligence services has a title like 'Intelligence and Security in a Free Society', surely you've got some obligation to put a bit of effort into the "free society" part?