Government to look into use of spies by State agencies

The use of private investigators by government agencies will be looked into by the State Services Commissioner.

The use of spies by government services has been in the spotlight for the past two weeks, after a Newshub investigation found Christchurch earthquake victims were spied on by private investigators, under orders from government agency Southern Response.

The State Services Commission on Friday announced former Deputy State Services Commissioner Doug Martin will lead an investigation into whether Southern Response "and one of its contractors may have breached the State Services Standards of Integrity and Conduct."

The Commissioner will be granted "extensive powers of inquiry", including the ability to obtain records and files and require government employees to answer question and enter premises.

It's possible the investigation will be widened to include the Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment (MBIE).

The private investigators used by Southern Response were from Thompson and Clarke, a security firm whose services were also employed by oil companies against Greenpeace activists. The oil companies passed information gathered on to MBIE.

MBIE told Newshub last year it received information about "risks" to industry activities and information used in prosecution against Greenpeace and three activists.

Mr Martin has been asked to consider whether to include MBIE in his investigation.

While the State Service' investigation will be limited to Southern Response unless the terms of reference are widened, State Services Commission Peter Hughes says he'll personally be looking into government agencies' use of spies more generally.

"I am also looking more broadly at the use of private investigators by State services agencies of assure myself that they are being used in ways that are consistent with the requirements of the State Services Code of Conduct and that the behaviour of the investigators themselves also meets those standards," said Mr Hughes.