In politics, it’s always worth asking how things would be if the shoe were on the other foot.

‘OUTRAGE’ is an overused word, bit it fits in this instance. The GCSB has laws banning operations to engage in surveillance of NZ’ers or those who have been granted permanent residence. They have been doing so for years, as part of ‘agency assistance’ to the Security Intelligence Service.

One of the ‘balancing’ questions I ask myself now and then, when confronted with a political debate, is: How would people be reacting if this proposed ‘reform’ (recognizing that’s a loaded word) was being promulgated by the party now in Opposition?

The revelations of long-term legal dubious activity by NZ’s spy agencies … and the prime minister’s announced intention to amend the laws and oversight relating to the state security apparatus … would, I think, provoke even MORE shrieking if they were occurring under a left-wing government. I could be wrong about that.

Gordon Campbell’s article “On the GCSB practice of spying on New Zealanders is worth a read.

[PM John’] Key’s plans to legalise GCSB spying on New Zealanders amounts to a virtual merger of the SIS and GCSB – and as yet, Key has offered no details about what he thinks “ proper oversight” would entail. It should not be his call. Agencies should not get to choose their own watchdog, and how long its chain should be. Parliament should be debating, and deciding, such matters – although of course, it would almost certainly do so along party lines.

The Fletcher affair has created a further, disturbing dimension. The very public dissent by former military chief /former GCSB boss Sir Bruce Ferguson over the relevance of a military background for the top GCSB job can be taken as an indirect signal of what is going on here. Namely, the cleaning out of the former military old guard at the GCSB, and the installation of a “change manager” in Ian Fletcher who has personal links to the PM. This amounts to a concentration of the security services, bringing them more closely in line with the PM’s policy agendas.

That centralisation of secret power and surveillance activities should be a worrisome trend for anyone concerned about civil liberties. The security services are not supposed to be at the beck and call of the government of the day. Fletcher –as the former head of what used to be the British Patents Office – has particular expertise in copyright law. Beyond the obvious relevance to the Dotcom case, copyright issues are also a prime feature of the Trans Pacific Partnership trade talks, and have been a focus of the protests being mounted against the TPP, worldwide – partly because of the implications that the extension of patents have for Pharmac.

Can it be entirely accidental that the new head of the GCSB brings extensive experience in such matters to his new job – whilst having no experience whatever in the GCSB’s traditional role of monitoring foreign (usually military) developments in the region that might pose a threat to New Zealand’s national security. Anyone involved in the campaign against the TPP would now seem ripe for surveillance, as part of the “agency support” to the Police and SIS in their monitoring of those critical of the government’s TPP agenda. …

Read Gordon Campbell’s article here at scoop.co.nz