From Class Struggle 48 December 2002/January 2003

The referral back to the House late last year of the “Telecommunications (Interception Capability) Bill 2002” signalled that the government intends to forge ahead with it’s plans to further erode our already seriously damaged civil rights. The select committee hearings on the Bill heard submissions from a wide range of individuals and groups opposed to the bill and as usual the Government chose to ignore them, proving that the whole select committee process is a complete farce and that the government had no intention of listening to any of the critics. Even some of the government’s lackeys voiced concern about the interception of citizen’s computer and telephone communications. The Privacy Commissioner, Bruce Slane, was concerned about the effect this would have on individual privacy.

S11 and ‘homeland security

Since September 11 2001, the Capitalist world has been in the grip of fear about terrorism and many western countries seem to be vying with each other to see who can strip away the most rights from the people. Not to be outdone, New Zealand has joined the cynical circus with legislation which gives the authorities vastly greater rights to spy on people. The Bill is part of an insidious package of legislation which includes anti terrorism legislation, increased powers for the GCSB (The Government Communications Security Bureau) and amendments to the Crimes Act that will make it legal for Government snoopers to hack into people’s computers. At the heart of these Bills is a desire to win the hearts and minds not of the people of New Zealand but of the imperial masters, particularly those in the US. There has been some vague talk in the last few months of us cutting a trade deal with Uncle Sam, and if it does eventuate, there is little doubt that a quid-pro-quo has taken place between the Governments of our two countries. There is also little doubt that the US will be the recipient of much of the information harvested by the New Zealand Police, SIS and GCSB.

Terrorism Suppression Act

A Select Committee held hearings in Auckland last year to hear submissions on the anti-terrorism legislation. Time was set aside to hear from left wing groups who opposed the legislation. The Workers Party, Socialist Party of Aotearoa and Socialist Workers Organisation spoke at some length to the committee about their concerns. Issues were raised such as the Workers Party association with Maoist parties in other countries and how that could be interpreted under the proposed bill. One of the provisions of the anti-terrorism legislation would make it illegal to be associated with any so-called terrorist organisation. Committee chairman, Graham Kelly, made a comment that he had been involved in the anti-Vietnam movement in the 60s and understood full well how people were concerned about civil rights but that they had nothing to fear. Essentially, Kelly expects us to trust him on the basis that he has some sort of street cred because he marched in a few demos over thirty years ago. At best he is now a cog in the New Zealand capitalist machine so his assurances count for little.

The Communist Workers Group also made submissions highlighting the despicable role played by the US in the rest of the world and raising the question of who were the real terrorists. Again, as expected, the Select Committee paid no attention to the many voices raised in concern over the direction this legislation was taking the country. One of the worst side effects of September 11 has been the way in which it has been used by the imperialists to hasten their attacks on civil rights. This attack is not new and rights were already in the process of being stripped away in countries like New Zealand. All that has happened since September 11 2001 is that the pace has quickened.

Crimes Act cyber snoops

Another example of the attack on civil liberties can be seen in changes to the Crimes Act which allows The Police, SIS and GCSB to hack into people’s computers to combat “cyber crime” and “cyber terrorism.” When asked for examples of cyber crime the supporters of the legislation cannot come up with any compelling examples and instead mumble about how criminals are increasingly using the net to commit crimes. As for cyber terrorism, evidence of this is even thinner on the ground. However, when asked for examples, the authorities can always fall back on the “I can’t reveal that information on grounds of national security” speech. This is a convenient way of side stepping the issue.

Many computer and Internet experts such as Alan Marsden of the ISP PLAnet point out that people will be able to get around the new legislation by using methods such as encryption. It is most likely that ordinary workers will be the ones spied on. A simple email containing the words ‘Bush’ and ‘kill’ will be the sort of thing that gains the attention of the spies. They won’t even have to be in the same sentence or paragraph.

Workers, activist organisations and individual dissidents will subjected to an apparelled level of surveillance and this information will then be passed on to US. Even before these offensive pieces of legislation came along organisations like the SIS and GCSB were a law unto themselves, spying on perfectly legal activism and activists such as Aziz Chowdry and David Small in Chrstchurch. We couldn’t trust them then, why should we trust them now especially since they have been given increased powers!

More Police Powers

The amendments to the Crimes Act to allow hacking are complemented by the Government Communications Security Bureau Bill which gives even greater powers to The GCSB than the police. While a police interception warrant only lasts for 30 days, the GCSB warrant lasts for 12 months and the only details made public every year are how many warrants were issued in the last 12 months. It gets even worse when you consider that some of the GCSB interceptions (such as those carried out at Waihopai) are not even subject to a warrant system. The Bill deliberately uses broad and sweeping phrases such as “New Zealand’s international interests or economic well-being.” No doubt that will mean protecting our alliances with other capitalist and imperialist powers and protecting the interests of international capitalism. The Green Party point out in their submission on the bill “a multinational company such as Monsanto, a promoter of GE Crops, is a major threat to New Zealand’s ‘economic well being’. Yet, there is no indication that the GCSB will be spying on Monsanto.” On the contrary, they will probably be spying on the “wild greens” an activist movement associated with the Green Party.

Echelon ties NZ to US War on Terror

New Zealand is one of the five partners (along with the US, Britain, Canada and Australia) in the “Echelon” electronic spying network. Echelon was pioneered by the US Intelligence agencies and is nothing less than a massive trawler of information. As one would expect with such a programme coming out of the US state, its purpose is to prop up capitalism and the imperialist order. Anything perceived as a threat to US interests would be a target. With the passage of this legislation, a blank cheque will effectively be given to our spying centre at Waihopai to conduct intrusive surveillance on not only New Zealanders but Pacific Island residents as well.

Attack on political freedoms

An example of an activist organisation that has much to fear from the GCSB Bill is the Anti-Bases Campaign in Christchurch. In light of this they too made submissions to Parliament opposing the bill. They make an extremely good point about the hypocrisy of the bill when they ask:

“The GCSB Bill would confer an aura of legitimacy on the Bureau that it simply does not deserve. How can an agency be deemed to operate under the laws of the land when it is exempted from certain provisions of the Privacy Act, when it is exempted from some provisions of the Crimes Act, when it’s methods of operation are closed secrets except to the exclusive breathern within the international intelligence community?”

Smash the police state!

They are right to ask this question, but a fear of being labelled hypocrites by their opponents has never stopped the capitalists from doing what serves their interests.Capitalist laws serve capitalist interests. We need an ongoing campaign to expose the abuses of power the state is engaging in and the real purpose behind such legislation. We must also make workers aware at every opportunity that they and their organisations are under direct threat from the spying legislation currently before parliament.

Only when people understand that these legislative attacks are part of capitalism’s grand plan for control, and that their class interests can not be defended by legislative changes but in the rejection of the capitalist system itself, will there be real change.

Workers action to defend civil rights!

For migrant defence committees!

Smash Echelon!

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