Pop quiz, who said “Anyone who is innocent has nothing to fear”? Answer, just about every politician ever who was arguing for an increase in state powers, especially powers of surveillance. On this particular occasion it was John Key defending the powers of a newly created “customs center” to monitor and preserve comprehensive details on air passengers.
Those words might just come back to haunt Key. His government has been busily ramping up Search and Surveillance powers and recently rammed through the Video Camera Surveillance Bill to boot. “Anyone who is innocent has nothing to fear” is very much the subtext. Brian Rudman in The Herald considers the recent teapot tape fiasco in this context. He pulls no punches:
Key plays risky game over taping
… Trotting off to the police on Monday full of injured innocence about a nasty cameraman recording his open invitation, “secret” meeting with Epsom Act candidate John Banks is all very well. But isn’t this the same John Key who shoved through retrospective legislation last month legalising widespread covert and unlawful videotaping by police.
… The tapes recorded police spying on a diverse range of suspects, capturing images ranging from the alleged Urewera revolutionaries through to, according to Mana Party leader Hone Harawira, speaking in Parliament, “a very high-profile politician caught during surveillance of a woman as part of a P investigation …”
Mr Key’s rushed legislation, overthrowing a Supreme Court ruling, met with universal outrage from civil rights experts. Dr Rodney Harrison, QC, counsel for one of the Urewera defendants, attacked the initial bill as “validating illegal conduct deliberately engaged in by the police”.
It was “contrary to fundamental constitutional principle and a serious violation of individual human rights”. Canterbury law professor Philip Joseph said it undermined the basic principle that no one was above the law. The move was “constitutionally objectionable”. Auckland QC Grant Illingworth said the Government was taking away the fundamental right of citizens not to be monitored in their private lives. Like other experts, he attacked its retrospective nature.
All of these increased (and retrospective) powers were just fine with Key. Now we get to the teapot connection:
For Mr Key to now get all sanctimonious about his right to privacy is, what’s that word … ah yes, hypocritical. As for calling in the police, after the surveillance tape legislation disgrace, it reads like a case of you scratch my back, and I’ll scratch yours.
I’m no lawyer, but it’s surely pushing the limits of credulity to call the stunt that Mr Key and Mr Banks got up to last Friday a private meeting. They courted each other courtesy of newspapers, radio and television for weeks beforehand. The whole world was signalled of the very public venue, where the first date would take place.
The whole point of the meeting was to exploit the media to the full, to ensure the message was delivered loud and clear to Epsom voters that the Prime Minister was calling on National Party supporters in Epsom to rort the MMP voting system in the hope that Mr Banks, the NACTional candidate, would win and drag in by stealth his unelectable leader, Don Brash. …
And the sting in the tail:
In putting ethical behaviour on the agenda, the National leader has also drawn attention to the deliberate gaming of the MMP system that this stunt was all about. Mr Key has already declared he wants to replace MMP with SM, the disguised version of the old discarded First Past the Post voting system. By exploiting a loophole in the MMP rules with his Act allies, he’s not just trying to get himself an extra vote or two in the House, he’s also discrediting the voting system he wants replaced.
A clever political move. But hardly a smart one for a man preaching ethics to the rest of us.
Powerful stuff from Rudman. Key is very much hoist by his own petard. He’s all for increases in surveillance. He’s recorded at a public meeting to which he invited the media. Now he doesn’t want the tape released. He’s acting a lot like a man who has something to fear, don’t you think?