If he has nothing else John Key has nerve.
In answer to a parliamentary question yesterday about what role the GCSB (Government Communications Security Bureau) had in the PRISM project run by the GCSB’s parent organization, the US National Security Agency, the Prime Minister didn’t bat an eyelid. He said the GCSB has assured him our spies work within the law and neither do they use their relationship with other agencies to circumvent the law.
After the GCSB was outed just a couple of months ago breaking the law in precisely that manner Key’s parliamentary assurances were as audacious as they were unbelievable.
The revelations about the massive secret American surveillance project called PRISM by whistleblower Edward Snowden are extremely serious. PRISM requires America’s major communications companies to pass on data about users – including email, photos, videos, chat services, file transfers, stored data, log-ins and video conferencing.
In theory the US does not collect this data on its own citizens but in practice it would behave the same as the GCSB. But in any case data on all New Zealanders is now in the hands of the NSA and to some extent at least is available to the GCSB via the back door.
For spies who work in unaccountable secrecy laws are there to be broken or circumvented – “in the national interest” of course.
We should celebrate Edward Snowden as a hero (unlike John Key who referred to him as a criminal on TV yesterday morning). He’s a great reminder that the human spirit is not always broken by big state bullying or heavy bureaucratic threats.
For New Zealand the most encouraging aspect of the whole GCSB antics this last year has been polls showing the public don’t trust the organisation and on this basis alone the media and politicians have a duty to pursue the organisation and the Prime Minister relentlessly for more information.
Labour’s always been soft in this area so it’s been good to see David Shearer continue to call for an inquiry into our spy agencies. Helen Clark was even less forthcoming that John Key and the illegal GCSB spying was going on on her watch as Minister in charge of Intelligence and Security.
However one looks at it we deserve better than Key’s rehearsed lines yesterday. The greater an organisation’s power and secrecy then the greater must be its public and political accountability. We have neither.
To emphasise this point a couple of weeks back I received a pitiful letter from the GCSB in response to a request for information held about me by the agency after revelations in the Kittridge report that the GCSB had illegally spied on at least 88 New Zealanders in the past decade. The letter is with this blog.
The GCSB head, John Key’s school buddy Ian Fletcher, says he conducted a thorough search but “can neither confirm nor deny the existence or non-existence of the information requested”. Others who have made similar requests have received similar responses.
What contempt this organization has for New Zealanders.