I have a joke magnetic sticker on our fridge which my Kiwi partner doesn’t like very much. It reads, “Be Nice to America, Or We’ll Bring Democracy to YOUR Country.” But over the past few weeks, it seems we don’t need to send an army to impose American style “democracy” any longer. Rightwing politicians in New Zealand and Australia are more than happy to impose it on their citizenry all by themselves.
New Zealand has just passed legislation allowing its main intelligence agency to spy on her residents and citizens in contradiction with the New Zealand Bill of Rights, despite strong opposition from civil rights groups, international technology giants and the legal fraternity. Prime Minister John Key, and leader of the rightwing National Party, was keen to push this legislation through Parliament, even claiming most people in the country didn’t care about the spy bill... ignoring polls promptly showing a solid 3/4ths of the country care very much, thank you. Even Google and Microsoft have warned the Prime Minister that such a spy bill is going to be bad for New Zealand business.
Yet, in complete disregard to the passionate opposition from both the public and many in government, the bill to expand the power of the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) passed by 61 votes to 59. The bill is already proving to be very unpopular, with Prime Minister John Key acknowledging it has many in the country feeling “agitated and alarmed.”
Gee, I wonder why.
But the allure of such Draconian power eroding the civil rights of the pesky public is like catnip to the rightwing in any country. After all, if it was good enough for George W. Bush, who started it, and even for Barack Obama, who seems to have found it convenient despite his campaign promises to end civil rights abuses, then why shouldn’t it be good enough for the likes of John Key?
One New Zealand Justice of the Peace and warrant Issuing Officer in Napier has resigned in protest after fifteen years of service, with an eloquent press release stating that he in good conscience could not continue in his unpaid appointee role with all its legal implications for a country which so lightly dismisses the fundamental rights of its citizens.
“The reason that the original Bill of Rights came into being,” Dr Robin Gwynn said, “was that people came to realise that while governments are necessary, they are also potentially so dangerous to their subjects that some basic bounds must be set to their powers. Powers to spy on civilians are, and rightly should be, exceptional – granted only when there is demonstrable cause to suspect particular individuals, at which point the public good overrides their natural rights. But here we have an Act which enables widespread state spying on New Zealanders, and couples it with the ability to collect and retain ‘incidentally obtained intelligence.’ This is not a power that should be held by any democratic government, of any country or any political colour or ideology. It doesn’t make any difference even if the Prime Minister of the day is the most trustworthy person in the world. It is a power that simply should not exist.”
As an historian, Dr Gwynn drew the parallel between the apologists of King James II whose abuse of power led to the original Bill of Rights in 1689, and the current PM now abusing the trust of his country. “When the Defence Force cannot distinguish between journalists and potential terrorists, when ACC cannot control leaks damaging to defenceless individuals, when even our Parliamentary Service will just hand over private phone records, the need for vigilance could hardly be more obvious."
His entire statement is well worth the read.
John Key has used the same excuse for pushing this legislation that Bush did, and now Obama, sadly, as well. “Trust me.” After all, if you’ve done nothing wrong, you should have nothing to hide, right? Just ask those people the NSA has spied on, such as current or former love interests, who probably don’t fall into any category of being a threat to our national security. Just ask those members of the United Nations who had their offices bugged, their videoconferencing and communications hacked. Just ask our friends and allies in the European Union embassy, only one of eighty embassies the NSA has bugged, how they feel about the NSA’s “Special Collection Service” spying on their diplomatic work.
“Trust me?” You've got to be joking.