The Dotcom/Greenwald/GCSB revelations

Tonight at 7pm we will finally see the long-awaited, much-hyped Kim Dotcom bombshell. Its contents have been teased by journalist Glenn Greenwald over the weekend, and many are pointing with glee at John Key’s statements from a year ago:

Prime Minister John Key says he and the head of GCSB would resign if the spy agency were found to have conducted mass surveillance.

Asked if he and GCSB chief Ian Fletcher would resign if there were mass surveillance, he said yes.

“But the facts of life are it won’t happen.”

For that to happen, the GCSB would have to undertake illegal activity.

“If I wholesale blatantly flout the law as Prime Minister I’m never going to survive anyway.”

It looks open and shut: Key said he’d resign if there were mass surveillance of Kiwis by the GCSB; there’s been mass surveillance of Kiwis by the GCSB; ergo Key must resign. But we know it’s never that simple in New Zealand politics and even the most black-and-white phrases are but fifty shades of grey in the Prime Minister’s mouth.

… ew. Didn’t think that metaphor through at all.

As I tweeted on Saturday, after seeing the buzz on Twitter (nothing but Metiria Turei telling Colin Craig to talk to the hand is getting me out of bed to watch The Nation in the morning), we need to think about all the potential outs Key has left himself with the above statements.

1) The context. Key’s comments were made “in the light of assurances that the changes to the GCSB Act 2003 would not mean mass surveillance of New Zealanders.” Technically, you can read this to mean that Key was only referring to mass surveillance which occurred after the law changes were made.

2) The qualifiers. Key says “if I wholesale blatantly flout the law as Prime Minister.” Well, you know, at the end of the day I’m quite relaxed about what’s happened and wouldn’t say it was blatant, because no one knew it was happening, and certainly not wholesale because there may be some Kiwis we didn’t illegally spy on.

3) The timing. It would be the easiest thing in the world for Key to say, “look, I said I wouldn’t survive as Prime Minister if this happened, and we go to the polls on Saturday anyway, so the people can decide for themselves then.” Never mind the fact over 150,000 people have already voted.

4) Just plain lying. This is a Prime Minister who managed to draw a line between “this one serious leaked email which meant a Cabinet Minister had to resign is valid” and “this entire book of serious leaked emails which implicate my entire administration is invalid.” Most people don’t know a lot about what our spy agencies do, or are meant to do, or shouldn’t be doing. If they’re reassured that only bad people were spied on illegally, or technically it wasn’t really illegal because the law is just so gosh-darn complex, they’ll believe it. It’s reasonable to.

Will these revelations damage Key and National substantially in the minds of people who weren’t already leftwing activists? I don’t think so. But it’s still good that we know exactly what kind of shady stuff our government has been up to so we know what to fight for when we’re in a position to change things.

The town hall meeting is being livestreamed at The Daily Blog tonight if you want to watch it. I won’t be, since I’m not sullying my monitor with Julian Assange’s creepy sexual-assault-charge-evading face.

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