What is the future of our civil liberties? Election candidates will be asked probing questions on their views about the state of liberties in New Zealand, either by the media or by members of the public. People can be forgiven for not asking these questions, given that there has been little coverage of the issues in the media. This, at a time when two of the most insidious pieces of legislation to encroach on New Zealanders’ civil rights are currently going through Parliament. These two laws are the Terrorism Suppression Bill and Paul Swain’s anti-hacking legislation.

[From Class Struggle 46 August/September 2002]

Terrorism Suppression Bill

The anti terrorism legislation takes a broad brush approach to the word “terrorist” which could even include such groups as Greenpeace. Further, it promises severe penalties for ‘supporting’ terrorist groups. Again, the sweep of the legislation potentially means left groups in New Zealand with links to overseas national liberation and revolutionary groups could be in trouble. As an aside, one wonders if any of the thousands of dollars raised annually in NZ for state of Israel will lead to charges of supporting terrorism! It is highly unlikely since the term terrorism means what the US defines as terrorism.

At a Select Committee hearing in Auckland, MP Graham Kelly told leftist groups appearing that all would be well and harked back to his anti-Vietnam days of protesting, saying he had no interest in targeting New Zealand’s left. In essence his message was “just trust us”.

The legislation also provides for secret trials and suppression of information where it is deemed in the interests of national security. The Prime Minister will be one of the few people in this “inner circle” of secrecy. Once again, the message from the Government is “trust us, we know what we’re doing.”

Police powers to invade your computer

The anti-hacking legislation started life as (supposedly) a completely different piece of legislation all together. For a couple of years now there have been complaints (mainly from businesses) that there are no (or insufficient) penalties to stop people hacking into other people’s computers. Businesses lamented the damage that could be done by such people by using viruses or Trojans. [A Trojan is a form of virus that once in your computer can give outsiders assess to your computer and the ability to delete or modify your files.]

The need for such legislation is questionable, given that up-to-date virus protection and judicious use of a firewall can prevent computers being compromised.

But the legislation has now mutated into something much more dangerous. At the 11th hour, amendments were added to the legislation to exempt police and security intelligence services from the legislation. On application to a High Court Judge, they will be able to hack into people’s computers to get information on them.

Internet Service Providers (ISPs) will be drawn into this snooping campaign, because they will have equipment that monitors e mail. The FBI and CIA already use tools such as Echelon to check for key words which may indicate suspicious activity. Next time you send an email to a friend in the US, use such words as “bomb” “President Bush” and “kill” if you want to get observed by the intelligence communities. This is not fantasy: it has actually happened to at least one New Zealander who used a few words (in a completely harmless way) and found out she was the target of the US government as a possible terrorist threat.

The justification for this gross invasion of privacy is the supposed need to combat so-called “cyber crime.” When asked what and how widespread this “cyber crime” actually is the proponents of the legislation become defensive and will not give any details.

The fact is that “cyber crime” is largely a myth. What little takes place can and is detected through existing methods. Further, anyone who wants to get around the new legislation will be able to do so by using encrypted email and anonymous surfing. What the legislation does is give the authorities the right to have unparalleled assess to the personal correspondence of anyone who owns a computer. It would be like giving the state the ability to randomly open mail for a vast majority of New Zealanders. The email snooping part of legislation is little more than a fishing expedition of the worst and most invasive kind. No wonder civil libertarians are concerned. Some Internet Service Providers such as Alan Marsden of “Planet Internet” have voiced concern as well. And yet again, the Government’s retort has been “trust us, we won’t use such legislation lightly.”

From previous experience in matters both economic and social, New Zealand workers should take such assurances for what they are: worthless.

Why this attack on democratic rights?

If the official reasons for the ‘anti-terrorist’ and ‘anti-hacking’ legislation don’t stack up, we have to ask what’s really driving Labour’s attack on civil liberties. It is clear that both pieces of legislation follow hot on the heels of similar action by the United States and British governments. We know that the United States, in particular, urged other countries to follow its lead in legislating against civil liberties after S 11. The pushing through of these laws says more about our desire to suck up to the US and buy back into their good books than it does about any desire to tackle crime and terrorism. These laws are part of an ongoing campaign by this Government to appease its large capitalist masters. The eagerness with which New Zealand was willing to commit troops to the Imperialist war in Afghanistan was sickening, and now it seems we are becoming more and more a part of the US spying network.

We know that US and New Zealand police and intelligence officials have been meeting to discuss ‘anti-terrorism’ but we don’t know any details of the discussions: a disturbing shroud of secrecy surrounds them. Attempts by activists such as Nicky Hager to find out what was discussed have met with a wall of silence and denial. The open society is closed for business, it would seem.

Criminalising Workers

We need only look at the US to see the effects of ‘anti-terrorist’ legislation. Longshoreman are being threatened with losing their jobs under the Maritime Security Act if they have been convicted of felonies and Trade Unionists could lose their legal protection under the new Patriot Act.

In the latest move Bush is threatening to callout the National Guard if the Longshore workers go on strike. An international solidarity campaign is building (info on

A recent article circulated on the left-wing Internet discussion group OCPPR highlighted this and other attacks on workers that are taking place, and included the comment:

“Mumia Abu-Jamal and nearly 2,000,000 others who are mostly Black and Brown are trapped in a prison system that is one of the fastest growing industries in the country. Mumia Abu-Jamal like others has been fighting against a system that is stacked against poor”

The comments about the prison system are something New Zealand should take note of as well. Despite calls from the right (particularly ACT and National) for tougher and longer sentences, it is worth noting that we are second only to the US in rates of imprisonment already. Interestingly, both the US and New Zealand have some of the highest rates of violent crime in the OECD. So much for the belief that longer sentences are a deterrent to such activity. US activists and unionists are to the fore in fighting for the release of Black activists like Mumia, framed and jailed for their politics. We have to be in the fore here too.

The British Model

Our proposed legislation is closely related to that of the US and the UK. Contrary to popular belief, the US and UK laws are not a direct result of September 11 - they were well in train before the events of that day. However what did result from September 11 was an added impetus to push through such laws with an even wider brief. It has also meant many people who might otherwise oppose the laws, have fallen in behind their masters. Middle of the road social democrats in England, Europe and so-called liberal democrats in the US suddenly showed their true colours in clambering to support such legislation. The only opposition to this legislation has come from Marxists, some Greens and some civil libertarians.

The Observer newspaper in England has reported that the Government there is now driving a move to increase email snooping across the European Union. If the plans go ahead millions of emails, other Internet information and telephone records would be made available to police and intelligence services. It reports that the law changes would mean Companies that run internet sites will be required to retain passwords used by individuals, record which website addresses are visited, and keep details of webpages looked at and any credit card or bank details used for subscriptions. The information retained about emails will include who sent the message, where the email went, the contents of the email, and the time and date the email was sent.

'It is typical that such a significant change in the control over private information is being worked out in secret,' said Dr Ian Brown, a leading expert on data privacy and director of the Foundation for Information Policy Research.

'It does seem to have been Britain that has put pressure on other member states to put in place this type of legislation. In 99 per cent of cases it will be used properly, but what about the other one per cent? There is not enough scrutiny of what is going on.' [The Observer, Kamal Ahmed, political editor, Sunday June 9, 2002]

There are recent reports that one of the Ministers pushing these sorts of policies, David Blunkett, is having a rethink, in the light of sustained criticism of the open ended process being proposed. But even if these ideas do not become law, substantial in-roads have already been made into individual freedoms in the European Union.

Stuff capitalists’ spies and snoops!

The scope and nature of these laws shows that they are more about an attempt to control workers and dissent than anything to do with terrorism or so-called “cyber crime.” They are part of an increasing tendency towards stripping away democratic rights won by workers over the decades. It is of little surprise that unionists and leftists in the United States have become one of the first targets of the new legislation.

The on-going crisis ridden nature of capitalism has lead to the capitalists locking up and spying on more people than ever.

Workers must see these types of laws for what they are. Not only are they attacks and retrenchments of hard-won rights, they represent an ongoing and increasingly vicious attack on workers. They have little or nothing to do with terrorism and cyber crime and everything to do with repression! We must oppose such laws vigorously and highlight what are they are really about, what they really mean to workers and who is behind them at every opportunity. We must rebuild our unions as fighting, democratic organisations capable of defending not only our workplace gains but of our democratic rights!

Demand that the CTU takes a stand against the Terrorism Suppression Bill and the anti-hacking bill!

For an Independent Inquiry into the killing of Steven Wallace!

For trade union support of the Palestinian unions!

Strike against the Anti-Terrorism Bill! Strike against the Anti-Hacker Bill!

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