Campbell Live on the GCSB

Continuing my commemoration of Campbell Live’s commitment to serious investigative reporting of New Zealand current affairs, instead of watching goddamned Road Cops. Tonight: honouring a current affairs show which bothered to unpack the murky and complex world of government surveillance.

Dissecting the GCSB bill

In short, the GCSB bill allows the organisation to spy on New Zealanders and to pass what they learn on to foreign governments.

“If you don’t do anything wrong, you have nothing to hide” is a common response to criticism of such unprecedented power.

But the SIS can already spy on New Zealanders and so can the police.

The GCSB bill connects domestic spying to global spy networks, which, as we’ve recently learnt, are listening to almost everyone.

Now, the bill is being passed under urgency.

But why? Shouldn’t we get this right?

Check out Campbell Live’s coverage of the GCSB and Kim Dotcom stories on the TV3 website, while we still can.

Blogging, forgetting, and legacy

Giovanni Tiso has some good serious thoughts on the efforts of one Dirty Politics-affiliated blogger to get her writing stricken from the national record:

The case of lawyer Cathy Odgers is even more interesting. Odgers deleted her first blog in 2005, before embarking on the very popular Cactus Kate. This too she deleted in 2013, long before its contents became relevant to stories uncovered by Nicky Hager and other investigative journalists. It was at this later time, however, that Cactus Kate went through a second, deeper deletion, as it now evidently became important to Odgers to remove all existing traces of it. This had the opposite effect to what she might have intended.

There has been a lot of thought-provoking debate about this – the right to be forgotten, how we define the “public interest” or “national good”, the pointlessness of trying to ever permanently delete something from the internet – and a lot of silly debate, largely encapsulated by the efforts of some commenters at The Standard to compare the National Library’s collation of Kiwi blogs to the GCSB’s mass surveillance of personal communication.

It’s super ironic that the same kinds of people who would’ve murmured darkly about leftwing plots and untrustworthiness when John Key’s blatant photo op with John Banks was accidentally recorded – and who say all kinds of nasty things about journalists publishing their edited emails in pursuit of speaking truth to power – suddenly get all precious about confidentiality and privacy when it’s one of their own being hoist by her own petard.

Personally, I’m quietly chuffed that the National Library has included my little blog in its web archive. I’m sure in ten or fifteen years’ time I’ll look back on it and feel a little rueful about some things I commit to screen, but on the other hand, one of the things we really have to get used to in the internet age is that there’s no hiding the fact people change throughout their lives. Even if your core ideals remain relatively fixed – I’m pretty sure no amount of time is going to make me a fangirl of short-term capitalism, for one thing – we’re always learning new things and finding different ways to express our ideas.

Change is good. I think we should embrace it more. It shouldn’t be a shameful thing to say “yep, I thought that was the right thing at the time and I was wrong” – god knows it would shut down any number of pointless political mudfights about who said what in 1985. (Of course, both sides would have to maintain the ceasefire or it’d be churlish. And hypocritical.)

I’m not entirely certain where I stand on the argument about blogs-as-national-records-versus-the-right-to-be-forgotten. But when someone is attempting to eradicate their past from the record – a past which possibly involves underhanded activity aimed at manipulating our political system – I’m a little leery.

On the other hand, who’s to say whether a particular site or post is relevant to that issue? You’re not going to find many people who don’t have a stake in it one way or another. But I reckon the National Library of New Zealand are probably the most qualified to make that decision, and I’ll be interested to see what they decide to do with the archives of Cactus Kate.

Snowden, surveillance, dick pics

I’m late to the party on this most excellent Last Week Tonight segment on surveillance, Edward Snowden, and whether, right now, a US government employee is looking at your dick pics.

The whole segment is well worth watching, but for anyone interested in a really powerful example of effective political communication watch from the point I’ve cued up below.

 

The difficulty with massive world-shattering revelations about complex technical programmes is that most people, like John Oliver says, simply don’t care. And even I, a politics nerd with serious concerns about government surveillance and privacy in the internet age, didn’t really have much of a grasp on the kinds of specifics Snowden and others are talking about.

Until John Oliver created – or rather, uncovered – the Dick Pic Programme.

People have incredibly busy lives and a huge number of demands on their attention. They need a reason to engage with serious, complex political issues. One of the things the anti-TPPA movement has been really good at is giving those reasons: it’s about Pharmac, and the cost of medicine. It’s about our government being sued for raising the minimum wage.

We on the left have a tendency to get a bit jargon-y. The right understand how this works. That’s why we’ve still got leftwingers talking up the importance of quantitative easing to anyone who’ll listen while John Key sits back and sneers “well you can’t just print money.”

On surveillance, on the economy, on any important issue of our time: we can’t keep repeating our very-clever thoroughly-detailed proposals which put everyone else to sleep.

We have to find the dick pic that makes people pay attention. So to speak.

The definition of irony …

… surely, must be Peter Dunne complaining (a) that the government hasn’t fulfilled its promises to him and (b) about the security of metadata:

“The question that the Law Commission identified about four years ago, the definition of metadata and the use or the way in which metadata can or cannot be utilised.

“And I think a lot of the issue about the interception and use of private communication is also about the interception and use of metadata.”

Mr Dunne said the Government had promised to clarify this.

“I would like to see the work on metadata get underway as soon as possible. I’ve been promised it for nearly two years and I am concerned the chain has been dragged. I think the intention now seems to be to wrap it all up in the review (later this year), which is fine, if in fact it leads to a conclusive outcome.”

Peter Dunne, of course, is the government minister who had to resign after refusing to hand over the content of 86 emails between him and Fairfax journalist Andrea Vance, who broke the story of the report.

Vance was understandably hopping mad about the subsequent releasing of her phone records and tracking of her movements around Parliament – but Dunne himself can’t have been too fussed, given in July 2013 he was still supporting a law change which would allow the GCSB to collect the metadata and private data of New Zealanders.

There are still a number of unanswered questions about the GCSB report leak – namely, who did it, but also, why Peter Dunne “considered” leaking the report despite claiming he had no intention to “hurt” the government and why anyone should just take it on faith that he didn’t follow through.

But you have to have a chuckle at a man who:

  • by his own admission couldn’t continue as a minister in 2013
  • refused to hand over his personal emails to an investigation impacting our national security
  • had his own suspicious-looking activity revealed due to an inappropriate handing over of metada
  • nevertheless supported legislation to allow the GCSB to spy on New Zealanders in the interests of national security
  • became a minister again only seven months post-resignation, after winning a key electorate seat and presumably promising not to make too much fuss

… now complaining that he’s not being taken seriously by his National handlers and that metadata is serious business.

No one really takes you seriously, minister. Your party barely scraped past 5,000 votes in 2014 and you retained your seat only because National ran a candidate who was afraid to say his own name in case people accidentally voted for him.

Perhaps, post-Northland-by-election, Dunne sees an opportunity to flex his muscles and show Key he isn’t to be taken for granted. And sure, Winston’s victory makes Dunne’s single vote (and Seymour’s single vote) more important.

But stamping his feet on an issue which only reminds people that he isn’t trustworthy and that he’ll do anything to get a portfolio probably isn’t going to help.

Hager’s revelations have the authoritarians worried

The Sunday Star-Times is reporting interesting things coming out tomorrow:

You can always spot the stories which have the supporters-of-the-status-quo worried:

https://twitter.com/MatthewHootonNZ/status/573949709938634752

https://twitter.com/MatthewHootonNZ/status/574007328468377600

I hate to break it to Matthew Hooton, but in a world where Cameron Slater argues for the right to be called a journalist, you’re not going to get far saying that Nicky Hager isn’t one.

Of course, Hooton has a longstanding beef with Hager:

https://twitter.com/matthewhootonnz/status/370009843781734401

Ladies and gentlemen, one of the foremost rightwing commentators of our nation.