Spies spy

Our spies are spying.

That isn’t news, it’s what spies do.

If there’ sandy news, it’s that some people appear to be surprised by this. Rob Hosking writes:

So. It seems we have a spying agency which, we learned today, spies on foreigners.

If anyone is surprised, let alone shocked, by this, they really are too gentle a soul for this cruel world.

Spying on foreigners is pretty much what comes on the label when you set up a spying agency. It’s what they do.

Unless you thought David Lange’s Labour government set up the Government Communications Security Bureau to run the country’s pest destruction boards, or to play Farmville on their neat new computers, what on earth did you think the agency has been doing?

The fact GCSB is spying on “friends?” First, those friends have some rather dubious friends and matters such as money laundering of criminal and terrorist activity are key parts of law enforcement these days. . .

We need to know what’s happening in our neighborhood.

To do that we must keep an eye not only on our neighbours but those who might be trying to influence  them.

If there’s anything to raise concern it’s not that our spies are spying, it’s about the oversight of them.

One can accept that, in today’s technologically advanced era, spy agencies are in a permanent race to keep up.

The unspoken assumption of Mr Hager and his excitable supporters seems to be that New Zealand’s GCSB is under some sort of obligation to not do what everyone else – government, citizen, criminal, lobbyist, activist – can do.

That is just silly.

But if a government agency is – as it clearly has done – is now undertaking the kind of surveillance on the scale in which one would expect in today’s world, there needs to be a stepped up level of independent oversight to match the increased spying activity.

There has been some increase, in the amendment legislation passed in 2013, but it is small compared to the rise in activity.

The cost of freedom is eternal vigilance, as the old wisdom has it. This applies to the activities such as the GCSB in two ways: one is we need to expect it to be vigilant in New Zealand’s interests, especially in our “backyard.”

But such vigilance also needs to be applied to an agency with such sweeping, and increasing, powers as the GCSB – especially if it is acting, as it appears to be, at least as much for other governments as it is for our own.

Our spies need to keep their eyes on our neighbourhood and someone needs to keep an eye on them.

 

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