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

Surveillance is a civil liberties issue says NZCCL

In a report published yesterday the IGIS found that the GCSB was involved in 'full take' collection of communications data in the South Pacific and some data was shared with its Five Eyes intelligence agency partners. However, the IGIS concluded it was all above board as "there were statutory authorisations in place enabling the GCSB lawfully to collect signals intelligence in relation to New Zealand’s interests in the South Pacific."

The New Zealand Council for Civil Liberties believes the IGIS report is a whitewash of the mass surveillance that New Zealand is involved in.

"The IGIS's report", said Thomas Beagle, chairperson of the NZCCL, "is limited and narrow. It focuses on whether the mass surveillance is legal or not and whether or not NZ citizens’ data was included in the surveillance. But this misses the bigger issue of what the GCSB, and thus New Zealand, is doing in the South Pacific.

The Five Eyes are an intelligence alliance formed at the end of WW2 by the UKUSA Agreement. The USA is the leader and the other core members are Britain, Australia, Canada and New Zealand. Between them the five countries operate a global data collection and mass surveillance programme.

"Surveillance is not benign," said Beagle. "Surveillance can have a chilling factor on dissent and surveillance can be used to manipulate society. 

"An example currently in the media," said Beagle, "is the spying by the Australian Secret Intelligence Service (ASIS) on East Timor. In 2004 ASIS bugged Dili ministerial offices to ensure Australia's interests were met in oil and gas treaty negotiations. Did NZ's GCSB, as a Five Eyes partner, help with this spying effort, and thus help Australia get an unfair advantage against East Timor?"

"Surveillance is a civil liberties issue,” said Beagle. “There is enough information out there now for us to know that the role of the Five Eyes is contradictory to democracy. The very existence of our Pacific surveillance, that we're capturing data that can be passed on to other governments, is a threat to the security of people working in favour of democracy and against corruption in the Pacific.

"We need to move beyond questions about legality," said Beagle. "The problem is mass surveillance. We need to look at the ethics and morality of mass surveillance, whose interests are really being served by this spying and ultimately, we should be questioning whether we even need the GCSB and whether NZ should be in the Five Eyes."

The New Zealand Council for Civil Liberties is a watchdog for rights and freedoms in New Zealand. The Council works through education and advocacy to promote a rights-based society and prevent the erosion of civil liberties by government or any other parties.

Contact details: Thomas Beagle, Chairperson, +64-21 805040