500 people gathered in Dunedin’s Octagon yesterday afternoon to express their displeasure at John Key’s planned expansion of the GCSB’s Spying Powers. It is always great to have our town square (eight-sided though it may be) used for the purpose our forebears once envisioned: a focal point of community conversation about serious issues. I spoke as a representative of the Green Party, as a candidate in this year’s local body elections, but also as a Concerned Citizen of City Rise. I am concerned about the effect this legislation could have on our community by killing our privacy and damaging our democracy. For the record, I have recorded my remarks from the rally below.
The tin foil hat brigade don’t get too many I Told You So Moments, particularly as the lead story on the world’s newspapers, TV channels and blogs. That is exactly what happened when Edward Snowden blew the whistle on the NSA’s Prism programme, which gave the the United States government the power to spy on all of its citizens all of the time. Every cliché Cheech & Chong paranoid conspiracy about the government watching your every move had come true. The crazy hippies were right!
But this was evil old police state America, right? Nothing like that would happen here in New Zealand?
Well, long before this, we learned that under both Helen Clark’s Labour Government and John Key’s National one 88 New Zealanders were illegally spied upon by their government. What was the response? Profuse apologies? An independent inquiry? No, we get a Prime Minister moving as fast as possible to make spying on his citizens legal. John Key wants the GCSB to be able to spy on you, tracking your movements and your phone calls, and – through our international intelligence alliances – be able to share that information with the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada & Australia. This is an arrogant invasion of our privacy, and a terrifying erosion of our civil liberties.
The GCSB Bill takes the idea that we are innocent until proven guilty and turns it on its head. We will all be treated as suspects by our own government, all of the time, just in case it might be useful to them at a later date. I object to being treated as guilty until proven innocent, but this is what this bill does, and for this reason alone we, as a community and as a country, should be horrified.
These expanded spy powers aren’t about terrorism, or protecting our safety, or monitoring criminality. After a decade of spying illegally on 88 New Zealanders, no arrests were made. The police already have recently expanded surveillance and interception powers, so what is the GCSB tracking us for?
The GCSB Bill refers to it “Contributing to the economic wellbeing of New Zealand.” It is hard to read that as anything other than a veiled threat aimed at anyone who wants to oppose the government’s economic agenda. Right now, that is anyone concerned about oil drilling, fracking, intensified dairy farming and our low wage economy. It is anyone interested in or affiliated to an environmental group or a trade union. The mineral and petroleum extraction industry is the most lucrative industry in the history of money, and anyone who threatens its dominance could be seen to be opposing the Government’s idea of what economic wellbeing is. That’s Transition Towns, EnviroSchools and hopefully the Dunedin City Council’s Energy Plan. Making our community stronger for our grandchildren isn’t something we should be spied upon by our government for, but that is exactly what this bill lets them do.
This is why the GCSB Bill is bad for our democracy. It will stop people engaging in the issues that are important to them, and important to us, because this government refuses to let you talk to each other without looking over your shoulder every time you call someone, text someone, or email someone. This bill is not a left wing or a right wing issue. This bill is an insult to all New Zealanders who believe in our right to free speech, free assembly and freedom from state surveillance every minute of the day. Don’t let this bill be a funeral for our freedom. It’s not over!