Every day, the saga surrounding the Government Communications
Security Bureau reads increasingly like something out of a
The setting is the country's corridors of power, the theme is
freedom, the plot is full of twists and turns, the central
protagonists' actions and intentions are murky, and the
ending is far from cut and dry.
The legislation to amend the GCSB's powers to enable the
agency to spy on New Zealanders is controversial enough.
The changes were prompted by revelations the agency may have
already spied illegally on New Zealanders in 88 cases. That
came from a review of the agency in the wake of the unlawful
monitoring of Kim Dotcom.
Inspector-general of Intelligence and Security Paul Neazor
subsequently cleared the agency of any wrongdoing in the 88
cases, but almost immediately clarified his findings saying
they were inconclusive, and that the law was unclear and
should be amended.
The report about the 88 cases was leaked - shortly before its
public release - to journalist Andrea Vance.
United Future leader Peter Dunne subsequently resigned as a
minister for not co-operating with David Henry's inquiry
(commissioned by Prime Minister John Key's department) into
the leak by refusing to release emails between himself and Ms
The latest twists include revelations three months' worth of
Ms Vance's phone records and swipe card records were given to
the Henry inquiry by a company contracted by Parliamentary
Service to operate Parliament's phone system.
The head of Parliamentary Service, Geoff Thorn, has resigned
amid claims he was pressured into releasing the documents by
Mr Key's chief of staff Wayne Eagleson.
And it has also been revealed that emails between Ms Vance
and Mr Dunne were also sent to the Henry inquiry, but
apparently not opened.
The main players are involved in still more unedifying twists
and turns as they attempt again to flee the spotlight.
Mr Key is trying to distance himself by registering his
disappointment with Speaker David Carter.
Mr Carter has done a U-turn on his original statement, and is
now admitting the records were given to the inquiry.
Mr Henry continues to state he neither requested nor sought
Mr Dunne says Mr Henry sought his landline phone records
(which he reportedly gave under duress - as well as his swipe
card records) and maintains Mr Henry said they would be
compared with Ms Vance's phone records, implying he already
had them or was seeking them.
In damage control mode, Mr Carter apologised to Ms Vance and
her employer Fairfax, and he and Mr Key are now vociferously
lauding the importance of press freedom, with Mr Carter
stating in Parliament: ''We all have a love-hate relationship
with our Press Gallery, but they are an absolutely essential
part to this democracy.''
Mr Key said in his letter to Mr Carter: ''I was deeply
concerned and troubled by this news'' and ''it is
inappropriate for such information to be provided to the
The issue has been referred to the privileges committee.
There is no small irony the comments about press freedom come
at a time when Mr Key is trying to push the legislation to
extend the GCSB's powers to spy on New Zealanders through
Parliament - and to tidy up the mess made in previous
Among the twists and turns it is easy to lose sight of the
real issues - and lose interest. But should we be afraid?
Former prime minister and constitutional law expert Sir
Geoffrey Palmer says yes, the most fundamental part of a
democracy is freedom of the press.
The media keep governments - which, after all, are the
people's elected representatives, entrusted with upholding
their ideals - transparent and accountable, inform citizens
of things they might otherwise be unaware, and question
official decisions that might threaten what we hold dear.
Monitoring of the media in such a way is the first step to
controlling the media. It is easy to make the media the bad
guy - but knowledge is power and the media is instrumental in
Taking any of that away makes the country more vulnerable to
abuse, corruption, and will make our lives more fearful and
It is right there should be an outcry about such monitoring,
and right there should be serious concerns about amending the
role of the GCSB.
The role of the media is as vital as ever - a point
reinforced by Mr Key's dismissive comments about street
protests on the Bill as being by a ''small minority'',
''politically aligned'' or ''misinformed''.