It has seemed that no matter how insulting and ridiculous this National government has been that very little actually shifts its position in the polls. Until now. With the GCSB Bill due for its third reading tomorrow night the Labour and Green parties have finally managed to outnumber the Nats in the polls (how long that lasts remains to be seen). Will this stop the government from bulldozing straight through? Probably not.
We shouldn’t stop caring though.
The GCSB bill is controversial (It’s even taken over NZ’s subreddit). Essentially it’s been dreamt up so that the government can legalise something that the GCSB has been doing illegally for years. Comforting huh? But what does it actually contain and why are we hearing that the New Zealand Law Society, Human Rights Commission, Sir Geoffrey Palmer, and New Zealander of the Year, Dame Anne Salmond (second opinion piece) don’t know what they’re talking about when they use their experience in constitutional law to poke flaws in the Bill?
It all comes down to privacy and communication data – the new bill changes the rules so that the GCSB can legally spy on New Zealanders and share information with our ‘partners’. John Key has said that he won’t let people’s personal emails be surveilled – but it’s not actually in the law, we’re supposed to just trust him. The Law Society amongst others are not convinced. They think that this bill has been rushed without reason, without proper public consultation and is overly intrusive. They advised that more time be taken for this bill, more information sought and more public discussion occur. Obviously that has not happened.
So it’s no surprise that alot of people are against this Bill – that became blindingly obvious (if it wasn’t already) when 1500 odd people packed the Auckland Town Hall last night and another 140,000 online watched an anti GCSB Bill public meeting or when TV3 posted its largest ever poll with 89% of respondents voting against the bill. It’s a cause that isn’t just for the lefties or activist types, it’s pulling in everyone (I mean it hardly even follows National Party ideology!)
Despite this I keep finding myself hitting up against the call – why should we care? Or we’re not going to change anything so why bother? It doesn’t affect me anyway… or the worst of the worst, ‘If you’re not doing anything wrong then there’s nothing to worry about.’ *coughgroupthinkcough*
Democracy is active. As a democratic society we elect representatives to promote our interests and in response we are accorded the privilege of living in a country with roading, electricity, water pumped into our homes, supermarkets with a huge range of supplies on offer, jobs and decent incomes, subsidised medical care, average Internet service, telecommunications networks, to live with the freedom to speak, to communicate, to be. As our society has grown more and more independently minded it’s easy to feel like the government has nothing to do with you but even when you illegally download the latest episode of Breaking Bad the government is there putting down the infrastructure for you to download it in the first place.
Government shouldn’t be a bad thing. But people are people and people make mistakes. A good government should therefore respect and fear (and listen to) its people. Some fear is good – it keeps people honest. Most importantly a prime minister should not assume that he or she is better than its population. They are there because we put them there to represent us – not to represent their own interests.
This is where John Key has gone terrifyingly wrong. The GCSB Amendment Bill was first introduced in April of this year. It is now due for its third reading tomorrow. It is a rushed piece of legislation made strictly to legalise the Prime Ministers own agency’s illegal behaviour. That is not how laws should be made.
A major complaint against the GCSB Amendment Bill is that it is too open to interpretation giving the agency and the prime minister too much unbridled power. John Key says that we should trust him to make the right decision – but when he has led an agency which has already proven itself to be untrustworthy is this a fair call?
John Key has also claimed that the New Zealand Law Society, Human Rights Commission, Former Prime Minister and ex GCSB minister Sir Geoffrey Palmer do not know what they are talking about when it comes to their submissions against the Bill. If we assume that John Key is right this immediately demonstrates that this Bill is not robust – if legal specialists do not understand a Bill how can we expect anyone else too? If John Key is wrong then it demonstrates a severe abundance of arrogance and a basic lack of respect for the sort of society we live in.
So why should we be scared of this bill? How does it actually affect us in real life?
- Jon Stephenson and Nicky Hager have encountered threats and surveillance from Defence forces due to their investigative journalism work on the actions of our Defence forces overseas. They were doing their jobs as journalists – revealing disturbing information that contradicted official government rhetoric. Journalists as the fourth estate are supposed to keep governments honest – can they do their job effectively if they have to be afraid of government retribution?
- Remember those sweet sweet illegal downloads? Seeby Woodhouse, Orcon founder has voiced concerns that the GCSB bill will slow down Internet speeds, that after the Telecommunications Intercept Bill due to follow the GCSB Amendment Bill that telco operators like him will be unable to dictate his own business or be open to the public.
- There’s a reason why you have curtains in your house, passwords on your social media and email accounts, sign for couriers, expect your mail to turn up unopened. There’s a reason why your employer doesn’t have automatic access to your medical records, why you don’t usually have your employer as a Facebook friend. Everyone has something to hide and that’s not a bad thing. This bill attacks our ability to live together independently and comfortably and privately. And it’s not like we don’t have reason to be nervous about information collected getting into the wrong hands – remember Bronwyn Pullar?
- This bill fundamentally attacks our civil liberties and is in the hands of a lying and forgetful weak man. Seeby Woodhouse has asked whether the government is using 1984 as a guidebook, I can’t help but think of Martin Niemoller’s famous quote:
‘First they came for the socialists and I did not speak out because I was not a socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out–
Because I was not a Trade Unionist
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out–
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me–and there was no one left to speak for me.’
We think that because we live in New Zealand that nothing bad can happen to us. That even if we have a corrupt government that it’s not that big a deal because it’s not as bad as other places. We still ride on the coat tails of great global moments of New Zealand standing up against the world. But that is no longer the case. This government is weak and it has made New Zealand weak. It has made us prey to greedy global powers and we are already betraying so many of our populace. How far does it have to go? How many more Urewera raids, ACC vs Bronwyn Pullar, MSD Kiosk Leaks, Kim Dotcom, Andrea Vance, Jon Stephenson, Nicky Hagar examples do we need?
- Andrea Vance – Demystifying the GCSB Bill Spies and Lies | Stuff
- Gordon Campbell | Scoop
- Law Society Submission
- Dame Anne Salmond | New Zealand Herald
- Dame Anne Salmond | New Zealand Herald II
- Rodney Harrison QC – Wholesale Spy Power is Precisely What GCSB Bill means for Kiwis | NBR
- Vikram Kumar – Revealed: Government Plans Secret Orders to Service Providers Once Spy Bill Becomes Law | NBR
- Tech Liberty Submission
- Nethui 2013: GCSB Bill Too Important to Rush
- Sim Ahmed – Spy Bill Puts Internet Innovation at Risk | Idealog
- Kim Dotcom Submission
- Human Rights Commission GCSB Report