New chairperson – why civil liberties matter and what we need to do

We recently held our AGM and I'm proud to have been elected as the new Chairperson for the NZ Council for Civil Liberties.

Civil liberties matter to me. I believe that a freedom and rights-based democracy is the best way to build a society that gives everyone the chance to be the best they can be. Furthermore I believe that New Zealand can be that society.

Now is an interesting time for civil liberties. The digitisation of our society is giving governments and corporations new ways to spy on us, to learn about us, and to manipulate us. At the same time, I've had many conversations over the past few years discussing why people seem less protective of their civil liberties than they were in the past.

It's obvious that the Council needs to defend civil liberties from the inevitable encroachments of government, but an equally important part of our role is to keep reminding people why civil liberties are important and worth preserving. At the same time we also need to build up the Council's capacity by attracting more members to support us financially and contribute to our work.

There are two projects that I want to see started next year that I believe will make a start in this process:

  • A series of public lectures and forums for people to learn about and discuss civil liberties issues.
  • The writing of a history of the NZ Council for Civil Liberties since its formation in the 1950s.

This will be in addition to our normal ongoing advice and advocacy work. In 2015 it seems likely that some of the major issues will be:

  • The promised repeal and rewrite of the Privacy Act.
  • The use of Police official warnings to act as a sort of extra tier of the judicial system, without the protections available to people in the courts.
  • Even more changes to surveillance and other laws as part of our continued over-reaction to the overseas "war on terror".
  • The Harmful Digital Communications Act which aims to implement new and tighter rules for speech online.

I expect there will be other emerging issues too, as well as the ongoing process of sticking up for the rights of prisoners, of immigrants, of beneficiaries, and of the disadvantaged. Finally I hope that more work can be done to improve New Zealand's constitutional arrangements.

The Council does important work but it needs to be doing a lot more of it as I fear that we are currently losing too many battles. If you think you can help we would be grateful for your ideas, your efforts, your resources, and your time. Please feel free to contact me at

Thomas Beagle
NZ Council for Civil Liberties