Ironically, while many of New Zealand’s first same-sex weddings took place just this week, the passage of a new intelligence agency-bolstering bill demonstrates one liberty being traded off for another.
The legislation, passed late last night, has been criticized by many for enlarging the size and scope of the Government Communications Security Bureau’s (GCSB) spying powers. Following the close vote, Prime Minister John Key defended the measures saying, “There are threats our government needs to protect New Zealanders from” and that “those threats are real and ever-present and we underestimate them at our peril.”
Similarly to the rhetoric of U.S. politicians who have defended the NSA, the legislation has been held up as an essential power that is indispensable in preventing threats to the country that are imminent. “They’re needed right now,” claims Key, “because there are threats against us right now.” Since the nature of those threats is classified, the Prime Minister would not go into any detail about their precise nature.
Kim Dotcom, founder of the file-sharing site MegaUpload, and himself a New Zealand resident, has expressed great concern about the bill recently over Twitter. Two days ago, he remarked that it “receives funding from the United States Govt [sic].” Prime Minister Key, Dotcom adds, “does not deny it and won’t reveal how much funding.”
In spite of the Prime Minister’s claim that New Zealanders don’t care about the issue because they had not been addressing it as often as something like snapper fish policies, a recent poll indicates that 75 percent of people in the country have at least some concern about the law. Near the end of last month, there were also widespread protests against the bill with thousands of attendees in 11 separate cities. One of the larger protests in Auckland had around 2,000 attendants. There, even Kim Dotcom spoke to the crowd about the looming issue of government privacy invasion.
Just two days ago, Key faced an onslaught of criticism from journalists at a press meeting. The meeting lasted no longer than 14 minutes, with the Prime Minister answering a final question sharply and then leaving. On Monday, at least 1,000 attended a meeting at Auckland Town Hall in opposition to pending GCSB bill. Before the event began, those seated were mockingly treated to the Police song “Every Breath You Take” and “Politician” by Kora.
Meanwhile, at the official press conference, one journalist started into a question about privacy concerns until Key stopped him.
“Prime Minister,” the person began, “numerous legal jurors have informed us publicly that they disagree with you wholeheartedly, that you are taking broad powers, which would allow you to invade privacy… and you are saying that all those people are wrong.”
Key abruptly answered “Correct,” then asked the journalist, “Is this a question, buddy?”
While the country’s GCSB had formerly been prevented from spying on anyone domestically, that ban has since been done away with, opening the door for the bill to ultimately have more effect. The new law also follows a recent report which found the agency to have been engaging in illegal spying on at least 80 individuals.
Ultimately, after much debate on the issue, the bill passed 61 to 59.
Written by: Chris Bacavis