New Zealand to enact repressive intelligence legislation

Issue 

WELLINGTON — The New Zealand government is proposing a law that would extend the powers of the Security Intelligence Service (NZSIS) to break and enter into "any place" in New Zealand.

The New Zealand Security Intelligence Service Bill 1998 is being rushed through parliament after a December Court of Appeal ruling found that NZSIS interception warrants do not confer the right to enter private property.

The ruling arose from a civil court action (Choudry v Attorney-General) against the NZSIS after two NZSIS agents were caught breaking into the home of GATT Watchdog organiser and anti-APEC activist Aziz Choudry. The break-in took place during an alternative conference on APEC and free trade which Aziz was involved with organising.

Neither the NZSIS nor its political masters have explained this bungled SIS operation, hiding instead behind a shroud of "national security". Although NGOs, community groups, and unions have repeatedly called for an independent inquiry into the Choudry break-in, this has been ignored by the government.

Like many other state intelligence agencies, the NZSIS has a highly questionable past. It has targeted a range of movements, organisations and individuals for their political beliefs and affiliations, ranging from the infiltration and surveillance of anti-apartheid activists in the 1970s and 1980s, to anti-Vietnam War organisers and members of numerous left-wing organisations.

Since the Cold War ended, it appears that its new targets include opponents of globalisation and advocates of Maori sovereignty.

Critics of the bill describe it as a "declaration of war against lawful dissent". It would allow NZSIS agents to break into homes, buildings or vehicles and then to install, maintain or remove "things" if they wished.

The Association of University Staff has described the authorisation of government spies to break into homes as "legalised theft". Allowing the NZSIS to seize material or plant devices in homes or offices is a threat to academic freedom, it argued.

Dr Rodney Harrison, QC, of the Auckland Council for Civil Liberties, argues: "The proposed power of entry has no proper safeguards surrounding its exercise and will be open to abuse by the SIS with virtual impunity."

Since 1996, the definition of "security" has been extended to include "the making of a contribution to New Zealand's international well-being or economic well-being".

This is one of the broadest definitions of security in any comparable legislation and further opened the way for the NZSIS to monitor and harass opponents of government policy even if they are engaged only in lawful advocacy, protest or dissent. In particular, opponents of APEC and the neo-liberal agenda believe that they will be targeted by the NZSIS for their activities.

The government hopes to push through this law as soon as possible because it is hosting APEC in 1999. From Jakarta to Vancouver, from Manila to Kuala Lumpur, APEC leaders' summits have become synonymous with repression and a crackdown on opposition to APEC's agenda. All the signs are that APEC in New Zealand will be no different.

Public submissions to a Prime Ministerial Committee of Parliamentarians composed of the prime minister and four other senior National and Labour ministers and MPs (all of whom support the bill) have been overwhelmingly opposed to any extension of the powers of the SIS. But only 13 of the 120 MPs in parliament oppose the bill.

It is expected that the committee will report to parliament very shortly. The prime minister hopes to pass the bill into law in early March.

Supporters of civil liberties are urged to fax or e-mail Prime Minister Jenny Shipley (<Prime.minister@ministers.govt.nz> or <Jenny.Shipley@parliament.govt.nz, fax: 64 4 473 7045) and the leader of the opposition, Helen Clark (Helen.Clark@parliament.govt.nz>fax: 64 4 472 9309) and urge them to scrap the legislation and call for a full, independent inquiry into the role and activities of the NZSIS.

Please also send a copy of your letter to the New Zealand High Commission and to GATT Watchdog at <gattwd@corso.ch.planet.gen.nz> or fax 64 3 366 8035.