New Zealand Plays ÒFollow the LeaderÓ on spylaws

Aziz Choudry


Zealanders often brag that their country is a world leader. They claim it was

first to create a welfare state and give suffrage to women. The 1984-1990 Labour

Government declared the country nuclear-free, while, according to the Economist,

it simultaneously set about “out-Thatchering Mrs Thatcher” by applying

textbook neoliberal economic theory on an unsuspecting New Zealand public to a

degree never seen in any other OECD country. Now, some rosy-spectacled

commentators like The Guardian’s Jonathan Freedland claim that Helen Clark’s

Labour Party-led government, elected in 1999, is leading the world away from the

blind faith in the private sector and market dogma that has characterised so

many social democratic governments worldwide.


the truth of such claims, when it comes to state surveillance and its security

and intelligence legislation, this wannabe “world leader” is as meek as a

lamb, doing the bidding of its Big Brothers in the USA, the UK, Australia and



New Zealand Parliamentary committee is considering submissions on the first part

of legislative changes necessary to give New Zealand Police and intelligence

agencies new powers to hack computers, and intercept emails, faxes and pager

messages. State surveillance agencies are specifically exempted from the

amendment’s provisions, sold to the public as a benign anti-computer

hacking/electronic crime measure.


all the local intelligence community’s obsession with monitoring

“foreign-influenced” activities, a “foreign hand” lurks behind the

latest changes. They are largely motivated by US pressure to standardise and

synchronise global methods and capabilities for intercepting electronic

communications to assist its own intelligence operations.


with proposed amendments to the Telecommunications Act, requiring internet

service providers and telephone companies to install equipment and software so

that their systems can be intercepted, the proposed law change closely resembles

Britain’s Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act. This compels all Internet

service providers operating in Britain to be connected to a new MI5 email

interception centre, and to hand over encryption keys so that all messages can

be read. A dedicated centre may not be built in New Zealand, but the effect will

be the same.


government is denying links between the new law and FBI plans to make other

countries adopt its requirements for surveillance of electronic communications.

But Assistant Police Commissioner Paul Fitzharris admits that “proposed

legislative changes would bring New Zealand into conformity with most, if not

all, of the International User Requirements” – which are virtually identical

to those promoted by the FBI since 1992. Local police say that they know of no

instances where a crime had been plotted using email, and that criminals would

be cautious about what they said online.


Zealand intelligence agencies have been subject to unwelcome attention recently.

In 1996 Wellington activist/researcher Nicky Hager released his

internationally-acclaimed book “Secret Power”. This exposed New Zealand’s

role in an integrated international electronic and signals intelligence network,

governed by the secret UKUSA intelligence agreement between the USA, UK, Canada,

Australia and New Zealand. It highlighted the Echelon project, involving

satellite interception spybases in these five countries automatically and

continuously searching for key words in billions of messages. New Zealand’s

Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) sends raw material that it

collects directly to the NSA.


1988, protest camps and demonstrations near the GCSB’s Defence Satellite

Communications Unit, the Waihopai spybase in the sparsely-populated South

Island, have demanded its closure, and the GCSB’s abolition. Waihopai’s

function includes spying on the international communications of South Pacific



Zealand has always obediently played a junior role in the Western alliance,

cooperating with the USA, Canada, Australia and the UK. In 1956, the NZ Security

Intelligence Service (SIS) was established after pressure from Britain, its

organisation strongly influenced by MI5.


the Cold War, like their western counterparts, New Zealand intelligence and

security agencies served to protect an ideology which was anti-communist,

anti-Soviet, and anti-Third World liberation. The SIS conducted investigations

of the anti-Vietnam War movement, and the anti-apartheid movement which grew

throughout the 1970s, peaking with mass mobilisations throughout the country

during the 1981 South African rugby team’s New Zealand tour. It spied on trade

unionists, students, academics, diplomats, political refugees, and others.


New Zealand Police Criminal Intelligence Service (CIS) grants itself a broad

mandate to collect information on people on the basis of their political

beliefs, and views formed by police intelligence officers that their activities

may potentially involve a breach of the criminal law. Their work in this area

has much in common with political elements in police forces elsewhere which

routinely monitor, harass and criminalise political organisers and activities.

The CIS and the SIS liaise closely.


and technical information about “subversion” and “counter-subversion”

was routinely shared among western security and intelligence agencies during the

Cold War and no doubt continues. After the Cold War these agencies have

struggled to justify their continued existence and budgets by constructing other

threats to “security”.


clearly include opponents of globalisation and neo-liberal economic policies,

Maori (Indigenous Peoples) advocating the right to self-determination, and some

migrant communities. One newspaper editorial commented: “The state religion

changes from anti-communism to free trade, but the secret priesthood can still

carry on persecuting unbelievers”


July 1996 two SIS officers were interrupted breaking into my house while I was

organising a conference opposed to corporate globalisation, two days before an

APEC (Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation) Trade Ministers Meeting began in

Christchurch. The break-in occurred two weeks after a law change assuring us

that the SIS would not institute surveillance of anyone engaged in lawful

advocacy, protest or dissent. The same amendment contained a controversial

redefinition of security. It added the “making of a contribution to New

Zealand’s international well-being or economic well-being” to an existing

“protection of New Zealand from acts of espionage, sabotage, terrorism, and

subversion, whether or not they are directed from or intended to be committed

within New Zealand”.


agencies have long interpreted “subversion” to justify spying on movements,

organisations and individuals promoting social, political and economic ideas

perceived to challenge dominant social or economic interests. But critics of the

1996 amendment argued that the redefinition of “security” gave the SIS a

carte blanche to spy on opponents of unregulated foreign investment and free

trade, and on Maori who challenged the policies, practices and authority of the

New Zealand government at home and in international forums like the UN. Auckland

University law professor Jane Kelsey wrote that “changes to the definition of

“security” seem designed to secure a further closure of debate….The very

essence of a democratic society is that it secures the best possible outcome for

its people through freedom of speech and a genuine contest of ideas. It appears

that the …government feels unable to sustain the status quo in the face of

free and open debate, and is attempting to intimidate and monitor those who

threaten to get in its way.”


subsequently brought a landmark civil case against the Government, charging the

SIS with trespass and unreasonable search in breach of the New Zealand Bill of

Rights Act, maintaining that the SIS had no legal right of entry into private

property. In December 1998 the Court of Appeal found in my favour, ruling the

break-in illegal. In reply, the then National Party Government – aided by the

Labour opposition, rushed through legislation expanding the powers of the SIS by

allowing them to enter private property, and retrospectively approved all other

SIS break-ins between 1977 and 1999.


February 1999, the SIS paid for Dame Stella Rimington, former head of

Britain’s MI5 to fly to Wellington as an expert witness to support the

proposed law change giving the SIS powers of entry. She said that without the

power to enter property to install listening devices, the SIS could not play a

full part in the international intelligence community. Later that month, FBI

director Judge Louis Freeh visited Wellington to discuss APEC security

arrangements with the SIS, Police and the Prime Minister.


public opposition, the law was passed before New Zealand’s biggest ever

security operation for September 1999′s APEC Summit. The definition of

“security” was meaninglessly tweaked in a cosmetic exercise to dispel

concerns about its breadth.


last May, two dozen trade unions, community organisations, academics, religious

and political leaders called for a parliamentary inquiry into the Police CIS’s

role in targeting political organisations and activists.


followed a High Court case brought by university lecturer David Small against

the Police, following police searches – purportedly for “bomb-making

equipment” of our respective homes within days of his discovering the botched

SIS break-in. In evidence, CIS officers admitted photographing participants at a

fund-raising quiz night and peaceful demonstrations, watching my home and

workplace, and monitoring attendance at meetings on globalisation and other

social justice concerns, over a period of many years. They had actively assisted

the SIS in covering up their botched break-in. One CIS officer claimed that Dr

Small had first come to his attention in the 1980s, through writing articles

about Pacific independence issues – hardly evidence of potential criminality.


nationalists have clearly been under surveillance. In 1997 the houses of two

Maori lawyers advocating indigenous sovereignty were broken into at exactly the

same time in different cities. The only material disturbed in both instances

were papers about constitutional change in New Zealand already in the public

domain. In 1999, the Wellington Maori Legal Service revealed that an independent

security firm had swept its offices and found that phonecalls were being

intercepted externally. Maori lawyer and activist Annette Sykes also discovered

that her phones were being tapped and a location-tracing device placed on her

car. The Police and SIS stayed silent. Maori Legal Service solicitor Taki Anaru

said he was sure that the SIS was bugging several Maori nationalists “because

the definition of national security is so broad these days”.


Zealand’s intelligence and security agencies remain tightlipped about their

current targets and their interest in electronic communications between

activists. But a August 2000 Canadian Security Intelligence Service report,

“Anti-Globalization – A Spreading Phenomenon” advocated “careful

monitoring” of Internet communications between individuals and groups opposed

to globalisation “to determine the intentions and goals of demonstrators, and

to forestall unexpected incidents.” In recent years, Canadian and Australian

state surveillance operations targetting Indigenous Peoples’ organisations

have attracted unwelcome publicity.


its image as a country which bravely took on the USA over the nuclear issue, New

Zealand remains a willing junior subcontractor in the Western Alliance’s

international intelligence gathering and surveillance network. For an

administration founded on colonisation and the dispossession of Maori, and still

wedded to market economic fundamentalism, domestically, those who challenge

dominant colonial and economic orthodoxies and their overseas networks are

clearly considered fair game for surveillance.


its bid to further expand SIS, Police and GCSB powers, Clark’s government is

sidestepping some uncomfortable questions about these agencies’ roles in

monitoring and managing domestic dissent. Modelled on Blair’s New Labour,

(which has just enacted the draconian Terrorism Act 2000) it warmly embraces

Third Way politics – aka “globalisation with a smiley face”. It seems

equally committed to maintaining and extending the national security state

apparatus, and willingly complies with the wishes of its senior intelligence

partners in the US and the UK. For all the rhetoric, it is hard to distinguish

between New Zealand’s largest political parties, Labour and National, on

security and intelligence matters. Together, they have the numbers in Parliament

to push the law change through.


New Zealanders count sheep to get to sleep. But New Zealand’s national

security state is still helping its Western Alliance buddies count political




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