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GCSB: They do listen

Written By: - Date published: 5:40 am, January 4th, 2014 - 36 comments
Categories: election 2014, internet, john key, Politics, Spying - Tags:

This year the biggest burst of political knowledge for me last year has been the role that the GCSB has in NZ (and security services elsewhere) and how pathetic the political and legal oversight of their role currently is.  In NZ it is a self-supporting club of the heads of the security services, a pliant Prime Minister, and a Inspector-General who appears to not prepared to do much of the oversight that their role is meant to perform.

In view of the revelations about the depth of surveillance by the US and its allies (like us) over citizens coming out of the whistle-blowers overseas, you’d have to wonder how far our own paranoid individuals in the security organisations have been extending themselves into the local polity.

While I’ve been travelling over Xmas, I’ve been using various political quips as an informal way of identifying political topics that have penetrated into the political conciousness of voters. This one has been the obvious winner.

The GCSB – the only government department that really listens.

To date, I’ve been getting a 100% response rate from everyone. Left, right, green, and apolitical. Moreover, virtually no-one seems to comfortable about what they’ve been hearing.

With the ever increasing information coming from Snowden and other whistleblowers from the surveillance community, I’d say that this political hot potato has a whole lot further to run over the current year. It would not surprise me if it becomes a major election topic.



36 comments on “GCSB: They do listen”

  1. karol 1

    Yes. And it links to a lot of other important issues, e.g. the TPP. One of the crucial aspects of the TPP is the digital copyright issue, and the role of corporates aligned with or linked to the US-dominated surveillance services – and that goes back to Nicky Hagar’s original expose (exposeh – with an accent on the e) of the echelon network – he claimed that 5 eyes were being used to gain commercial advantages.

    And, also, back to NZ and the current state of the GCSB – the recruitment of Fletcher to head the GCSB was related to the shift of the GCSB to focus on so-called “economic security”.

  2. RedLogix 2

    If we really want to stop crime and corruption we can do it. Within a decade we will have the technology to record every moment 24/365 of every person’s life, everywhere they go, who they meet, what they see (thing google glass), what they say and write.

    And it can all be securely stored on a government database. No exceptions, no gaps. Zero privacy.

    Think what a great thing this will be. For a start it will eliminate rape of any kind – never will there be any question of consent anymore. No violence, it will be recorded. Obtaining evidence of discrimination, abuse or exploitation will be easy. No corruption, no cheating, no lying – all criminal or civil proceedings will be a simple matter of searching for and reviewing the relevant moments as recorded. Any gaps in the record will mean a presumption of guilt.

    Sure it’s a bit authoritarian – but with the right safeguards in place only those with something to hide could possibly object.

      • RedLogix 2.1.1

        xark makes two pertinent points:

        1. That the NSA system is “Got it? The system isn’t designed to care about you and your private data. It’s designed to efficiently eliminate anything it determines to be not-bad-guy. “

        True – that is it’s current mission. Now ask yourself how easily future administrators of the NSA system could reconfigure it to something closer to the Chinese system.

        2. But the day is coming when corporate control over our information will produce a civil liberties crisis that will make our NSA worries look quaint by comparison

        The distinction between corporate and government ‘big data’ is critical, inasmuch as there is zero oversight and accountability around how corporates use personal information.

      • weka 2.1.2

        Yeh, but it also doesn’t help to frame the NSA as not a serious problem because they’re really only after the bad guys. Try telling that to Tuhoe. Or anyone who looks like a muslim travelling in the US.

        Plus I’m sick of some geeks and commentators telling everyone they’re stupid for using google, without offering any useful solutions (and by useful I mean ones that can be used or done by lay people).

        He also doesn’t make a case for this beyond his assertion that it will happen

        “But the day is coming when corporate control over our information will produce a civil liberties crisis that will make our NSA worries look quaint by comparison”

      • RedLogix 2.1.3

        The real value of metadata to the government doesn’t lie in its ability to single people out for investigation.

        The real value of the metadata is that it makes propaganda techniques more effective because messages can be targeted more directly.

    • Will@Welly 2.2

      As Napoleon said, “Some pigs are more equal than others.” So my friend, while any misdemeanors the “average joe” .gets up to, may recorded and exposed, corruption at the top will no doubt be covered up.
      And do you really want your most intimate thoughts and conversations shared with the world?
      What about the person who is working on a project, that long-term they stand to make a make a fortune out of, who sees their idea “stolen” and either “gifted” or “sold” to some identity that is in the pocket of the Government. Intellectual theft will become common place.
      As for “safeguards” – you have to have money – most working class people don’t have access to the amount of money required to afford proper legal representation at the upper echelons..

    • QoT 2.3

      For a start it will eliminate rape of any kind – never will there be any question of consent anymore.

      Um, I’m going to have to call bullshit on that, RL. Right now, rapists manage to successfully argue that they had consent, even if their victim was literally unconscious or saying “no” in a loud clear voice. Because the victim was a sex worker, or a woman of colour, or had previously had consensual sex with the rapist, or was 12 years old but “mature for their age”.

      It’s great how far we’ve come in terms of the discussion around consent, but the fact is that rape culture is about a hell of a lot more than just “did they say yes or not”.

      • RedLogix 2.3.1

        Well with the video evidence to hand women will have the unchallenged opportunity to call bullshit on all of those evasions.

        After all if the victim did scream ‘no’ – there would be no quibbling with this. No more ‘he said, she said’.

        Besides the system would work very powerfully for women as they could use it to explicitly record their consent before each and every sex act. No nonsense about ‘previous consensual’ sex or not.

        It’s great how far we’ve come in terms of the discussion around consent, but the fact is that rape culture is about a hell of a lot more than just “did they say yes or not”

        Yes that’s the more pervasive and difficult issue. I suppose with time we could construct a really good ‘meta-rape’ system that monitored and analysed real-time social interaction for evidence.

        • Will@Welly

          Question R.L. – if someone from the GCSB was “listening in” and heard some Polly raping a young “thing” – you pick the sex – would they intervene? Probably not!
          Yet if they heard two kids “skylarking”, chances are, the cops would be there quick as you could count to two.
          And remember, R.L. it was only fairly recently that rape within marriage was outlawed. Even then, it’s still bloody hard to prove. That’s why National has hated the DPB from Day 1. It gives women a choice.
          And why is it that in so many cases the victim becomes the focus of the trial for all the wrong reasons? Do you really think the GCSB will “hand over” tapes in such cases?

          • RedLogix

            if someone from the GCSB was “listening in” and heard some Polly raping a young “thing” – you pick the sex – would they intervene? Probably not!

            I wasn’t thinking specifically GSCB, but you are right – that it’s not you who gets to define what is right or wrong, what is of ‘interest’, nor what information is made available or not.

            Beyond this, into a future of ubiquitous surveillance, the argument remains. When I said 24/365 recording of everything, I meant just that. It would make, to use your for instance, proving rape in marriage easy – assuming the Court system had routine access to the data.

            • weka

              There is not way to record everything 24/365, short of implanting chips in our bodies that we can’t remove (and that won’t be happening in the next ten years). Even then there will be ways to subvert the technology.

              I find the rape example weird, and think you could have used something far less messy to illustrate your point that wouldn’t have lead into a complicated discussion about consent (which we know from past discussion we don’t have a consensus on here). Then there is the matter of the difference between what the law says about rape, what people within the law say, and what women say…. probably better to not have gone there.

              • RedLogix

                There is not way to record everything 24/365,

                An increasing aspect of my work role involves system security – from a somewhat different perspective to the usual IT concerns. From my reading it seems we are remarkably closer to recording everything than most people think.

                short of implanting chips in our bodies that we can’t remove (and that won’t be happening in the next ten years)

                The UK already has extensive CCTV coverage in public spaces; and there are other ways to cover the private spaces other than embedded chips.

                Well yes I could have used another example – but the point should be obvious. If hypothetically someone could give you a tool that would eliminate virtually all rape (or any other equally worthwhile goal) in this manner – would you use it?

                • weka

                  “From my reading it seems we are remarkably closer to recording everything than most people think.”


                  “The UK already has extensive CCTV coverage in public spaces; and there are other ways to cover the private spaces other than embedded chips.”

                  Do you live in a city? If so I can see why you would give that example. There are still many places in NZ that are going to be impossible to install cameras that work 24/365.

                  Plus, people will always develop resistances.

                  “If hypothetically someone could give you a tool that would eliminate virtually all rape (or any other equally worthwhile goal) in this manner – would you use it?”

                  Ok, so it’s eliminate virtually all rape now, rather than eliminate rape of any kind. Even so, I don’t accept the basic premise so can’t answer your question. I think the standard response is to point out that any govt that thinks in such absolutes is deluding itself and its people.

                  • RedLogix


                    No software or hardware can be trusted. Certainly nothing past about 2005. All electronic communication is recorded. All recorded information is analysed and will remain available for analysis by anyone, at anytime in the future, for any purpose.

                    People are still working through Snowden’s material and are still uncovering gobsmacking stuff – and some of it dates back to 2003 or earlier. All we can be sure of is that their capability has advanced since then.

                    All the assumptions I make about security turn out to be way too optimistic. Even fully air-gapped systems (ie not physically connected to the internet in any fashion) can be compromised.

                    The hardware I buy from Dell, HP or Cisco is compromised. Only the most advanced techies have the capability of keeping themselves secure. I’m not one of them.

                    So they can get data from more or less any electronic source they want. They can certainly store it. They only lack the ability to analyse it all in real-time – and even that is only a matter of time.

                    And it’s not necessarily your personal info that’s important, as I mentioned earlier – it’s the social meta-data that’s really valuable to them.

                    I don’t accept the basic premise so can’t answer your question.

                    I’ll take it on trust that you gave that response in good faith. It’s an iccky question though isn’t it?

                    • karol

                      But maybe it also depends on how they interpret what they are seeing.

                      Brecht, I think, said on stage, you can’t show a political riot/rebellion as it really happens, because all people will see is a load of folks running around breaking shop windows.

                      Watching some rapes in real time (and sound recording?) maybe to some spies/cops it’ll just look like sex as usual?

                    • weka

                      Red, I pretty much know all that. Maybe I misunderstood, I thought you were meaning that we will be tracked 24/365 in our whole lives. If you mean our electronic lives I agree more, but still think there is the possibility of tech being undermined (have you read Little Brother?).

                      Yes, my reply was in good faith. I think framing things in absolutes is problematic because it shuts down some creative solutions and can scare people too much (they go into denial instead of action).

    • Foreign Waka 2.4

      “If we don’t believe in freedom of expression for people we despise, we don’t believe in it at all.”
      ― Noam Chomsky

  3. tricledrown 3

    Joe 90 yes not only knowing everything you search.
    But the data could be used like retailers do by political parties to profile how the masses can be manipulated.
    VPN might be a short term way of getting around this.
    But recent news reports show the nsa are building an even bigger monster computer.

  4. Philj 4

    ‘We’ don’t want to stop crime. Crime is good for bizness. Plus, crime is only what ‘we’ determine it to be. A bit of ‘Alice in Wonderland’. Ed Snowden – BAD, Kissenger /Obama/ any USA President – GOOD!
    James Cameron’s (Avatar) and family, moves to NZ, tells me he is looking forward to surviving in the Wairarapa.

  5. uke 5

    While I approve of much more scrutiny of the GCSB’s activities, that “The GCSB – the only government department that really listens” line is a bit of a cheap shot.

    It harks back to a whole lot of NR myths about the public service being inefficient and public servants having a “job for life” mentality, etc. While the services may sometimes be hamstrung by political decisions, I think government departments and the people in them do try and be responsive. In my experience, the public service is no less responsive than the private sector – and has sometimes been far far better.

    I wonder what the PSA would say about this joke?

    • RedLogix 5.1

      All humour is founded in a twist, disconnect or distortion of our current point of view.

      It’s really good at making us look at things differently – a powerful tool. Throw in a chuckle or belly laugh and it’s memorable. Reflect on the twist itself and it transforms.

      • uke 5.1.1

        Of course humour is way of engaging people with pressing issues. But this in itself does not justify the specific humourous content used, which may – as in this case – happen to reinforce negative stereotypes.

    • lprent 5.2

      I did say why I was using these quips didn’t I? Trying to get people to engage on almost any political topic works best when you lead into with humour.

      • uke 5.2.1

        Yes, and please see my reply above.

        I would also remark that the content of jokes may both engage and disengage people, depending on their what is being used as the comic grist of the matter. This joke initially made me laugh, then cringe when I thought about it more, despite my sympathy for the cause. And I find it sad that the notion the public service doesn’t listen to the public, resonates with so many people.

        Maybe I lack a sense of humour, but I think it pays to be careful about what you joke about. Plenty of politicians have been rightly criticised for their insensitive little comic asides – including on this site.

        • RedLogix

          You have a point uke – a good one that I strongly agree with. We treat our public service with far too much disdain, from Gliding On to, well – onwards.

          Humour though serves a different purpose, and it’s not a bloodlessly objective sifting of facts.

  6. Tracey 6

    It wouldnt be an end to rape and violence. It might be an end to unsolved rape and violent crimes.

  7. Tracey 7

    Simon bridges says the increase in those opposed to mining means national has to work harder to “persuade” them. I wonder how much more they could do in this regard?

    Does it mean the nats will stay away from it as an economic silver bullet. With only 27 strongly opposing mining bridges doesnt really need to spend time or energy persuading does he?

  8. BLiP 8

    John Key’s lies in relation to his GCSB portfolio . . .

    Iain Rennie came to me and recommended Fletcher for the GCSB job

    I told Cabinet that I knew Ian Fletcher

    I forgot that after I scrapped the shortlist for GCSB job I phoned a life-long friend to tell him to apply for the position

    I told Iain Rennie I would contact Fletcher

    I haven’t seen Ian Fletcher in a long time.

    I did not mislead the House (13)

    I have no reason to doubt at this stage that Peter Dunne did not leak the GCSB report

    I called directory service to get Ian Fletcher’s number

    the new legislation narrows the scope of the GCSB

    the GCSB has been prevented from carrying out its functions because of the law governing its functions

    because the opposition is opposed the GCSB law ammendments, parliamentary urgency is required

    the increasing number of cyber intrusions which I can’t detail or discuss prove that the GCSB laws need to be extended to protect prive enterprise

    it was always the intent of the GCSB Act to be able to spy on New Zealanders on behalf of the SIS and police

    National Ltd™ is not explanding the activities of the GCSB with this new law

    cyber terrorists have attempted to gain access to information about weapons of mass destruction held on New Zealand computers

    the law which says the GCSB cannot spy on New Zealanders is not clear

    it totally incorrect that the Government effectively through GCSB will be able to wholesale spy on New Zealanders

    we self identified that there was a problem with the GCSB spying on Kim Dotcom

    the illegal spying on Kim Dotcom was an isolated incident

    The advice I have had in 4 years as a Minister is that in no way ever has there been an indication of unlawful spying

    the Ministerial Warrant signed by Bill English did not cover anything up

    first I heard I heard about Kim Dotcom was on 19 January 2012

    first I heard about the illegal spying on Kim Dotcom was in 17 September

    I did not mislead the House (14)

    I won’t be discussing Kim Dotcom during my Hollywood visit.

    The Human Rights Commission couldn’t get its submission on the GCSB legislation in on time.

    it would cost too much to for the police and SIS to carry out the spying on New Zealanders that this new legislation will permit

    critics of the GCSB legislation, including the Law Society, the Human Rights Commission, and the Privacy Commission, are all uninformed

    no, I did not mislead the House (15)

    . . . whatta guy.

    • Anne 8.1

      critics of the GCSB legislation, including the Law Society, the Human Rights Commission, and the Privacy Commission, are all uninformed.

      That was the one that gobsmacked me!

  9. Huginn 9

    Yes, the discomfort is very broadly based.

    The spying is so extensive as to suggest a deep, generalised mistrust – they really don’t trust any of us. And the awareness that we are all being spied on, all the time, is incredibly intrusive – really chilling – so it destroys our trust in turn, and so it goes.

    I’ve spent the Festive Season mulling whether this mistrust of the population is related to the general disengagement from politics that we’re seeing in NZ, but also in places like this:

    Nearly half of Britons say they are angry with politics and politicians, according to a Guardian/ICM poll analysing the disconnect between British people and their democracy.

    The research, which explores the reasons behind the precipitous drop in voter turnout – particularly among under-30s – finds that it is anger with the political class and broken promises made by high-profile figures that most rile voters, rather than boredom with Westminster.


  10. Tracey 10

    Oh what a surprise… breaches of privacy by government departments…


  11. dave 11

    it will be very intresting to see what snomden releases on nz

  12. Aaron Livingston 12

    One solution! Destroy the NSA and any Totalitarion, Corporate, Privatisation policies and control.

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    Leroy, an Auckland great dane recently received a new 3D printed bionic leg after cancer was discovered. I think this is a fantastic story and highlights the real potential of additive manufacturing, or 3D printing Leroy’s prosthetic was printed in titanium and was ...
    GreensBy Gareth Hughes
    3 weeks ago