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Inquiry into GCSB needed - Edwards

Wednesday 10 Apr 2013 9:49 a.m.

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Political commentator Bryce Edwards has joined Labour and the Greens in calling for an inquiry into the growing scandal surrounding the Government Security Communications Bureau (GCSB).

Up to 88 New Zealand citizens and residents may have been illegally spied upon by the GCSB in the last decade after the organisation misinterpreted – or ignored – a law preventing such surveillance.

Prime Minister John Key, speaking from China, yesterday said the law needs to be changed to allow the GCSB to spy on Kiwis, but University of Otago lecturer Dr Edwards says he's making an "extraordinary" mistake.

"The Prime Minister is normally quite good at being in touch with public feeling, but on this I think he's going the entirely wrong way," Dr Edwards said on Firstline this morning.

"I think what this report shows is we need more control, more regulation of the GCSB and other spy agencies, and that they should be made to follow the law, not expand the law. This report really does show that we've got an agency that's out of control. It's dysfunctional and its staffed by incompetents.

"I don't think New Zealanders will have any faith in the spy agency at the moment, so they will be demanding quite the opposite. I think it's a bad call by the PM."

Dr Edwards calls Mr Key's decision a "lose-lose" situation, the latest gaffe of many surrounding the Prime Minister and the GCSB.

"The Prime Minister himself is the minister in charge of this area, and it just will keep reminding the public of the whole scandal over the appointment of Ian Fletcher and the cover-up of that by John Key in Parliament and to the media last week.

"It's gaffe upon gaffe, and it shows that Kim Dotcom just continues to create havoc amongst the establishment here."

Green Party co-leader Russel Norman this morning said the "whole system is corrupt", and that the law preventing the GCSB spying on citizens and permanent residents is "black and white". Dr Edwards agrees, saying the law is "crystal clear".

"If you look at the legislation – and I have – it's crystal clear that the spy agency is not allowed to spy on New Zealand citizens and permanent residents. For them to suggest that they don't understand that, suggests either incompetence or just a wilful desire to spy and go against the rules.

"I just think we need a wide-ranging inquiry now, on this."

An inquiry would probably also implicate the previous Labour Government, but spare current leader David Shearer, who didn't enter Parliament until 2009.

"This act was passed under a Labour government, so John Key has got that legitimate defence and I think Helen Clark and Labour will have to wear some of this," says Dr Edwards.

"Shearer himself can quite justifiably say he's played no part in this, so he's clean. But this does spread back over a long time, and there have been other ministers that need to explain why this hasn't happened."

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