Prime Minister John Key said he’d be speaking during the third reading of the GCSB Bill and he did.
Mr Speaker, this is an essential Bill which has attracted a lot of debate, much of it alarmist.
It’s one of the strengths of our country that people who oppose legislation have an opportunity to say so.
That’s their right, whether or not they understand what that legislation will actually do.
Some people are fundamentally opposed to the work of our intelligence agencies.
Those critics oppose the agencies almost on principle.
As Prime Minister, I am not one of those people.
That’s because I have access to evidence which shows that without the GCSB and NZSIS, our national security would be vulnerable.
There are threats our Government needs to protect New Zealanders from. Those threats are real and ever-present and we under-estimate them at our peril.
New Zealanders are entitled to expect that their security is something that the Government takes seriously. And we do. We take it very seriously.
But we can’t say we take it seriously, and then not make the tools available to allow our security services to do their job.
That is the opposite of taking security seriously.
And that is something I will never do.
Over the past four and a half years that I have been Prime Minister, I have been briefed by intelligence agencies on many issues, some that have deeply concerned me.
If I could disclose some of the risks and threats from which our security services protect us, I think it would cut dead some of the more fanciful claims that I’ve heard lately from those who oppose this Bill.
But to disclose that work publicly would, in some cases, jeopardise it, so I can’t.
I can only assure New Zealanders that the GCSB is a necessary and valuable contributor to our national security – just ask my predecessor Helen Clark, who said as much just a couple of weeks ago.
Today as the House debates this Bill, I think it’s important we all know why it is needed.
It isn’t a revolution in the way New Zealand conducts its intelligence operations. It is not about expanding the powers of a mysterious intelligence empire.
It simply makes clear what the GCSB may and may not do, and it fixes an Act passed under the Labour Government a decade ago which is not, and probably never has been, fit for purpose.
It’s a great shame to see Labour now running away from sorting out the problems it created.
But here in the National Party, Mr Speaker, I’m proud we recognise the importance of national security.
And I’m pleased that John Banks and Peter Dunne do too.
I’d like to acknowledge Mr Dunne and Mr Banks for their efforts to strengthen this legislation.
It is a better Bill for their input.
Mr Speaker, this Bill makes the GCSB’s three functions clear.
Information assurance and cyber security;
Foreign intelligence, and;
Assisting other agencies.
The first of these functions allows the GCSB to help protect government organisations and important private sector entities from cyber-attack.
This is a growing threat which targets our information and the intellectual property of our best and brightest.
Already this year the number of logged cyber-attack incidents is larger than it was for all of last year.
GCSB’s specialist skills can help protect departments and companies and this Bill gives it the clear mandate to do that.
A lot has been said about this so I want to be clear about a few things.
Cyber security is about protecting our secrets. It’s not about spying.
The Bill requires GCSB to get a warrant from the independent Commissioner of Security Warrants and me before it can intercept a New Zealander’s communications.
That warrant must be issued for a particular function, in this case cyber security. The clear intention of that function is to protect, not to spy.
The Bill also allows for conditions to be put on warrants and I intend to do that.
I will not allow cyber security warrants in the first instance to give GCSB access to the content of New Zealanders’ communications.
There will be times where a serious cyber intrusion is detected against a New Zealander and the GCSB will then need to look at content – that’s why the law allows that.
But that should be the end point, not the starting point.
So I intend to use a two-step process for warrants, requiring the GCSB to come back and make the case for a new warrant to access content, only where the content is relevant to a significant threat.
I also expect the GCSB to have the consent of the New Zealander involved unless there was a very good reason not to.
The second function of the GCSB is, as I said, – collecting foreign intelligence. That has been the largest portion of the agency’s work.
The third function allows the GCSB to assist the Police, NZSIS and NZ Defence Force.
This is something it has been doing for more than a decade, including under the previous Government.
At all times the GCSB believed it was acting lawfully, as did the Inspector General of Intelligence and Security and successive Prime Ministers.
This is because GCSB’s Act said it could assist others. But its Act also stated it couldn’t undertake surveillance on New Zealanders.
No agency should operate with such an ambiguous legal framework.
The Kitteridge review identified just 88 cases of assistance over 10 years – an average of under nine people a year.
So this isn’t and will never be ‘wholesale spying on New Zealanders’.
The truth is that GCSB has unique capabilities.
It makes no sense to duplicate those when they are so rarely used.
Instead, we will make it clear GCSB can assist only those three agencies, and only when they are able to show they have the lawful authority to undertake the surveillance themselves.
Mr Speaker, nothing in this Bill allows for wholesale spying on New Zealanders.
This Bill actually tightens, not widens, the existing regime.
I also want to be clear about another issue in this Bill, that is metadata.
There have been claims this Bill offers no protection of metadata and allows for wholesale collection of metadata without a warrant.
None of that is true.
Metadata is treated the same in this Bill as the content of a communication.
So when the GCSB wants to access metadata, it is treated with the same level of seriousness and protection as if the GCSB was accessing the actual content of a communication.
And there are protections around that.
Mr Speaker, this Bill is good legislation, and it is necessary legislation.
It fixes the problems with the current Act, and clears up the ambiguities that Labour passed into law a decade ago.
It puts in place a robust review of the intelligence agencies in 2015 and every five to seven years thereafter.
It requires more transparency, through open public hearings for the financial reviews of the intelligence agencies.
It requires the GCSB to tell New Zealanders how many times it has assisted other agencies and how many warrants and authorisations it has been issued.
It gives the GCSB a set of guiding principles that acknowledge the importance of human rights, independence, integrity, and professionalism.
And it puts in place a stronger oversight regime that will go some way to rebuilding public confidence in the GCSB.
Mr Speaker, I have rarely seen so much misinformation and conspiracy about a subject as has been perpetrated about this Bill. That has some citizens agitated and alarmed, which I regret.
But my regret about that would be nothing compared with my regret if this measure was not passed, and New Zealanders were harmed because of the gap that currently exists in our security arrangements.
This Bill is being passed today because its provisions are needed today.
They are needed right now because there are threats against us right now.
Others may play politics with the security and lives of New Zealanders but I cannot and I do not, and I will not.
That is why I commend this Bill to the House.
Call me naive but I don’t see any ability for mass surveillance nor any threat to privacy.
I do see protection from threats and the ability for the GCSB to assist other agencies in doing what other laws already allow them to do.