Over the last 20 months, since the 2011 election the words “spy” and “scandal” and more recently the phrase “spy scandal” have become increasingly used to describe one problem or another of the day regarding privacy laws in New Zealand. Since Prime Minister John Key was re-elected to office a swag of increasingly serious and potentially damaging problems have come to the surface. The fact that they seem to be overtaking all of the other many problems in New Zealand says something about the level of concern being raised.
In January 2012 the mansion of German millionaire Kim Schmitz, who set up the Megaupload site, was raided by police acting on a tip off from the F.B.I. The raid did not have an appropriate warrant and was found to poorly executed by the Police. Mr Schmitz, better known as Kim Dotcom, started legal proceedings to clear his name. In doing so it was found that the Government Communications Security Bureau had spied on him.
The S.O.P.A. and C.I.S.P.A. Bills in the United States which are an attempt to control how people use other peoples content on the internet were next. Normally United States domestic politics and New Zealand domestic politics are two quite different beasts, but in this instance the possibility that Bills being passed through the Congress and the Senate could influence how New Zealanders access their internet half a world away, has become a source of major concern here.
The inquiry into the raid on the Dotcom mansion then raised other questions, which the Prime Minister’s office denied knowing anything about. It was found that whilst Mr Key was out of the country, Acting Prime Minister Bill English had signed a G.C.S.B. warrant without informing the Prime Minister. Mr Key then told Parliament that he knew Mr Ian Fletcher, chief of the G.C.S.B., but said that he had not had anything to do with him for awhile. Mr Fletcher for his part insisted that Mr Dotcom was the only person that the G.C.S.B. had spied on.
He was not. All up 88 people were found to have been illegally spied on by the Government Communications Security Bureau. These damaging revelations caused an outpouring of protest when they were revealed. But much worse has since followed. The Prime Minister, in an attempt to show that he is in control of the Government Communications Security Bureau decided to draft new legislation that would validate the G.C.S.B. spying. Since then protest actions against the G.C.S.B. have reached rarely seen levels – in the weekend just gone thousands marched in protest actions in various locations around New Zealand.
The Dotcom scandal did not stop there. The Rebecca Kitteridge report into the scandal and the conduct of the G.C.S.B. was leaked to the media. United Future leader and then Minister for Revenue and Associate Minister for Health, Peter Dunne was implicated. When given a chance to clear himself, Mr Dunne refused to hand over all of the e-mails that had passed between him and Fairfax reporter and columnist, Andrea Vance. He was then asked to fall on his sword.
A few weeks ago when Peter Dunne resigned another scandal – and possibly the most damaging yet – blew to the surface. When Mr Dunne resigned, he did so because he was found to have been behind an unauthorized leak of confidential information. At the centre of the leak was information that was leaked to Fairfax columnist Andrea Vance. Ms Vance was subject to an inquiry by the Speaker of the House, David Carter who wanted to find out whether the leak came from Mr Dunne’s office or somewhere else. In complying with an information request, Parliamentary Services made the mistake of supplying considerable information about Ms Vance’s e-mails and telephone transcripts to the inquiry. Although Mr Carter has apologised to Fairfax and to Ms Vance, it would appear there may be more to the scandal than is being let on. Concerns are being raised for the first time that I can recall about the freedom of the press to do its work without undue monitoring.
If the Opposition can capitalize on this, the Government of Prime Minister John Key could come to premature end. This is possibly the most deceitful government in the history of New Zealand – scared of the media; scared of transparency; and possibly scared of the people.