Kiwi Polemicist

March 17, 2009

• Have your say: should the SIS spy on MPs?

The comments button is at the bottom right of this post.

Normally I give you my opinion on everything under the sun, but today I’m just going to reprint an article from the NZ Herald and let you have your say:

Prime Minister John Key has asked the Security Intelligence Service to put on ice any active files it has on MPs after a report found they should be treated as a special case.

Mr Key requested a report by the Inspector General of Intelligence and Security Paul Neazor after Green MP Keith Locke discovered a file the SIS had on him since he was a child had been updated since he became an MP in 1999.

Justice Neazor said as a general rule, he believed MPs should be excluded from SIS surveillance because of their jobs and standing.

The law required the SIS to be politically neutral, but monitoring of MPs could amount to political interference or inhibit them from doing their proper jobs.

However, he said any solution had to take account of the “unpalatable” possibility that an MP could be involved in activities which amounted to a threat to security.

He suggested a system in which the SIS required the Speaker’s permission to collect information on sitting MPs. In such a case, the agency should have to show it had “good grounds” for believing the MP in question was taking part in activities which were prejudicial to national security.

He said personal files on people should be “deactivated” while they were in Parliament and not added to unless the file was reopened with the Speaker’s approval.

Mr Key said he had written to SIS head Warren Tucker “inviting” him to take up the recommendations. He had also asked the Speaker to begin considering it and would ask Justice Neazor to do a follow-up report in about six months.

Green MP Keith Locke said he was pleased with the finding and hoped it would stop the SIS “spying” on MPs.

“MPs must be free to criticise the government of the day without being viewed as a security risk, as was the case with me.”

He said the party was happy to consider measures for “exceptional” cases where MPs were involved in security issues if there were genuine reasons for it. He also called for a wider inquiry into why the SIS had so many files on “legitimate dissenters”.

In explaining his findings, Justice Neazor said it was relevant that MPs were elected to serve the public interest and swore an oath of allegiance.

There was also the possibility a constituent could try to involve an MP in such activity and care had to be taken not to give constituents any immunity from scrutiny.

He said any new process should still allow the SIS to include information on dealings with MPs that other people under its watch had.

Justice Neazor’s report looked at the adequacy and appropriateness of SIS policies on keeping files on people.

Overall, he said the SIS had suitable processes for opening a file and collecting information. However, more thought should be given to limiting the kinds of information it kept.

Of Mr Locke’s file, Justice Neazor said his belief that the SIS had added to its file because of his critical stance on intelligence agencies was partly supported by a note on one of the papers in Mr Locke’s file which “was certainly unprofessional and ought not to have appeared on a file of a neutral intelligence agency”.

Pondering this one lead me into a maze of infinite regressions: should the government be spying on the government?

  • What do you think about the SIS keeping files on children?
  • What do you think about MPs being “excluded from SIS surveillance because of their jobs and standing”?
  • What do you think about having the Speaker decide which MPs can and cannot be spied upon?
  • What do you think about Justice Neazor’s statement that “it was relevant that MPs were elected to serve the public interest and swore an oath of allegiance”?

Have your say

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7 Comments »

  1. If anyone should be monitored by the SIS, it is MPs. Because of their “jobs and standing”, if they were involved in anything sinister they would be ideally placed to actually do something damaging.

    I would prefer the SIS to have a file on EVERY MP. That would avoid individual MPs complaining about being singled out, while ensuring our MPs were held accountable to the people who voted them in.

    It is possible to make a philosophical argument that no-one should be spied on, but that is impractical, we need an intelligence service to ensure our security. We must not compromise their ability to protect us. And any system that gives MPs favourable treatment reeks of political corruption.

    Comment by Mr Dennis — March 20, 2009 @ 9:03 am

    • Mr Dennis: you appear to have subscribed to the view that it is necessary for the state to maintain social order. See this post: http://tinyurl.com/d7qc39 .

      I agree that MPs should not be a sacred caste. However, if the SIS has a file on every MP who polices the SIS? If it is the PM policing the SIS, who polices the PM?

      If we had a publicly elected official policing the SIS and the government the government would, under our present structure, still not be accountable to that official or anyone else. If the official has legal authority over the government then that official becomes the de facto ruler of the country and corruption is bound to follow (absolute powers corrupts absolutely).

      There is no satisfactory answer to these dilemmas because one of the fundamental problems in NZ is that the government has absolute power with no legal constraints upon it. The citizens have no control over the government, unlike the USA where (in theory at least) the government is subject to the citizens.

      Remember that we only have elections because the government is kind enough to grant us this favour – I covered this in a previous post: http://tinyurl.com/cpl7od

      Comment by Kiwi Polemicist — March 21, 2009 @ 2:42 pm

  2. I meant I would prefer they kept a file on every MP than that they were not allowed to keep a file on any. Better than both is the current system, where they just investigate people they are genuinely suspicious about, saving resources.

    Yes, I do believe the State has a role in internal security, as outlined in Romans 13:1-7:
    “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.”

    I also believe the role of the state should be limited, but not to the extent that you believe it should be. The primary role of the state is external security (defence and diplomacy), the secondary role being internal security (especially provision of a court system).

    One essential part of our external and internal security is having an intelligence service. That is just a fact of life. You can’t respond to threats unless you know what they are.

    If therefore we need an intelligence service for practical reasons, we must ensure MPs are not favourably treated – if so they are even less accountable to the citizens than they already are.

    Comment by Mr Dennis — March 21, 2009 @ 4:23 pm

    • Mr Dennis:

      I have been pondering Rom 13 lately and I’m cooking up a post on that.

      One essential part of our external and internal security is having an intelligence service. That is just a fact of life. It is not a fact of life, it is a fact of living in a totalitarian statist system that controls the citizens by maintaining a monopoly of power over a territory. Information is power, and the state is drunk on power.

      Comment by Kiwi Polemicist — March 26, 2009 @ 10:10 am

  3. I’ll be interested to read that post when you publish it.

    If you do not believe an intelligence service is needed, how do you propose we identify threats to our national security? Even Moses and Joshua used spies.

    Comment by Mr Dennis — March 26, 2009 @ 3:52 pm

    • Mr Dennis: an intelligence service probably is necessary under a statist system. Doctors are also necessary in a fallen world, and in both cases the necessity arises from the presence of evil.

      IMHO comparing the actions of Moses who used spies under divine mandate with the use of spies by the pagan, illegitimate state is like comparing apples and rounded rocks: any resemblance is morphological at best.

      Comment by Kiwi Polemicist — March 26, 2009 @ 6:44 pm

  4. I think the fact you mention that we are in a fallen world is key. The world is not perfect, there are people out there who will use violence, and we must be able to counter them. Unfortunately.

    Comment by Mr Dennis — March 26, 2009 @ 7:52 pm


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