Merge all spy laws, report recommends

Merge all spy laws, report recommends

After decades of tinkering and dozens of ad hoc changes, it's been recommended New Zealand's numerous spy laws be scrapped and replaced with a single piece of legislation.

The country's first-ever independent review of intelligence and security has just been released, blasting the current laws as inconsistent, difficult to interpret, not comprehensive and lacking clarity.

In all, 107 recommendations have been made -- top of the list is a merger of the Security Intelligence Service Act, Government Communications Security Bureau Act, Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security Act and the Intelligence and Security Committee Act. 

Former Deputy Prime Minister Sir Michael Cullen co-authored the review, and says the fragmented nature of the current framework means the agencies are not working effectively or efficiently, and officials are uncertain about what the law even permits.

"The law in this case is a sort of double-humped ass; if I can invent a new animal, because it's actually impossible to understand."

Merge all spy laws, report recommends

Even urgent changes to the SIS and GCSB laws made by National at the end of 2014 couldn't clarify the laws, and Sir Michael says they arguably made it more complex, and possibly worse.

The changes came after a series of blunders by the GCSB, including illegal spying on Kiwis, and infamously on alleged pirate and German millionaire Kim Dotcom.

"So conflicting is all this legislation and so difficult to understand the concept of the GCSB Act generally that the real protection of New Zealanders is the incompetence of the legislation -- which has led the GCSB to conclude that for reasons of being safe they basically don't look even if they suspect someone of being a New Zealander."

Merge all spy laws, report recommends


Although Sir Michael and fellow co-author Dame Patsy Reddy want all the Acts to merge, it's outside of their remit to officially recommend the actual agencies merge too -- but he says that could be inevitable.

"If we had a blank sheet on that matter, quite probably we'd have recommended a merger of the two agencies... I think the next review in five to seven years might well come to that conclusion," he says.

Both authors played down fears that the legislation would expand the agencies' spying powers.

Dame Patsy reiterated that the powers of the GCSB and SIS did not extend to acting on the information they gather.

"The function of these agencies is to collect information, nothing more than that," she said.

Labour leader Andrew Little says this report spark a public debate on the balance needed between keeping people safe and confidence in how those powers are used.

He says the report has some "sensible" recommendations, and the party is prepared to with the Government to get the best legislation in place.

However, there are some proposed additional powers he has some reservations about.

"There are some additional powers recommended in the review including wholesale access to immigration, Customs and police databases among others. I would question whether this is justified."

Prime Minister and Minister of National Security and Intelligence John Key welcomed the report, and says the Government must now consider its response and with the intention of getting a broad political consensus.

However, that might be difficult, with the Green Party saying it is against expanding the spy agencies' powers.

"This proposal today represents the most significant erosion of New Zealanders' right to privacy in modern times," co-leader Metiria Turei says.

"Moving New Zealand to an American-style culture of fear and spying is not going to keep us safer."

She says the party will be "very active" in trying to limit the spy agencies' powers.

Intelligence and Security in a Free Society

The report will be tabled for debate in Parliament today.