A bipartisan approach to spy agency overhaul would be welcome

EDITORIAL

An investigation into New Zealand’s spy agencies has recommended what pundits are calling a civil union between the GCSB and SIS — and has initially been received well by Labour, with leader Andrew Little at this stage seeking clarification on the detail of new domestic spying powers.

Former Labour deputy prime minister Sir Michael Cullen and lawyer and businesswoman Dame Patsy Reddy were given the task of reviewing the two agencies in May last year, after what could be described kindly as some stumbles — such as the GCSB exceeding its brief by spying on more than 100 New Zealanders.

The most controversial aspect of the report is the recommendation that would allow the GCSB to spy on New Zealanders without a warrant if national security is involved. It would remove a long-standing situation in which the GCSB looked at external threats and the SIS at New Zealanders.

While this has predictably angered the Greens and will make civil libertarians upset, it probably makes sense that if you have an agency with the technological expertise the GCSB does, you should use it if domestic security could otherwise be threatened. Dr Cullen also gave an example of the GCSB using cellphone tracking to find someone missing at sea.

Some would be disappointed the report does not recommend the establishment of a standalone Parliamentary select committee to monitor the two agencies. The recommended single piece of legislation to cover both agencies would however include a beefed-up authorisation regime, designed to safeguard privacy.

One of the most pleasing aspects of this however is the prospect of a bipartisan approach between National and Labour.

The other big example of that this week was the agreement on legislation that will outlaw the zero hours contracts that require workers to be available without any guaranteed work.

New Zealanders would like to see more of this, in contrast to the United States where furious and vindictive partisan politics has hamstrung Congress and forced President Barack Obama to turn to executive orders.

An investigation into New Zealand’s spy agencies has recommended what pundits are calling a civil union between the GCSB and SIS — and has initially been received well by Labour, with leader Andrew Little at this stage seeking clarification on the detail of new domestic spying powers.

Former Labour deputy prime minister Sir Michael Cullen and lawyer and businesswoman Dame Patsy Reddy were given the task of reviewing the two agencies in May last year, after what could be described kindly as some stumbles — such as the GCSB exceeding its brief by spying on more than 100 New Zealanders.

The most controversial aspect of the report is the recommendation that would allow the GCSB to spy on New Zealanders without a warrant if national security is involved. It would remove a long-standing situation in which the GCSB looked at external threats and the SIS at New Zealanders.

While this has predictably angered the Greens and will make civil libertarians upset, it probably makes sense that if you have an agency with the technological expertise the GCSB does, you should use it if domestic security could otherwise be threatened. Dr Cullen also gave an example of the GCSB using cellphone tracking to find someone missing at sea.

Some would be disappointed the report does not recommend the establishment of a standalone Parliamentary select committee to monitor the two agencies. The recommended single piece of legislation to cover both agencies would however include a beefed-up authorisation regime, designed to safeguard privacy.

One of the most pleasing aspects of this however is the prospect of a bipartisan approach between National and Labour.

The other big example of that this week was the agreement on legislation that will outlaw the zero hours contracts that require workers to be available without any guaranteed work.

New Zealanders would like to see more of this, in contrast to the United States where furious and vindictive partisan politics has hamstrung Congress and forced President Barack Obama to turn to executive orders.

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