Dear Prime Minister,
It appears that we may have made a terrible mistake.
We made a detailed submission outlining our concerns about your government’s plans to increase the powers of the GCSB.
We expressed deep concerns about the rushed process to change the law, and about the intrusive nature of the proposed changes.
We concluded that it was difficult to see why urgent legislation was required.
“It is not possible to identify any tangible or meaningful concerns from the Explanatory Note to the Bill and the accompanying ministerial press release, beyond an allusion to helping the GCSB ‘get on with the job of helping New Zealand public and private sector entities deal with the growing threat of cyber-attack’”, we said.
“It seems that the underlying objective of the legislation is to give the GCSB powers it lacked previously: the power to conduct surveillance on New Zealand citizens and residents. No explanation or justification for the conferral of this power is given”, we went on to say.
We pointed out in our submission that the powers to spy on civilians are exceptional, and we expressed dismay that the legislation was being promoted under urgency.
“Exceptional legislation that intrudes on basic rights demands sober and deliberate consideration, not perfunctory treatment under urgency”, we warned. We recommended that more information be provided by the government to justify why this legislation was necessary.
We made numerous other recommendations about how the legislation could be improved, and how safeguards could be included to protect the public.
But it looks like we were wrong.
You have told Parliament and the media that you disagree with us. You haven’t said why, but we now accept that you know better than us.
You have said there are bad people out there who might want to hurt us. You have said that we need to make sacrifices if we are to remain safe, and that means trading away some of our civil liberties.
Benjamin Franklin said: “They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.”
Clearly, though, Benjamin Franklin was wrong. The old fool! Just as we are obviously wrong, because you know better than everyone else.
You haven’t explained how giving the GCSB increased powers will make us more safe. The legal powers of that agency may end up being expanded under the proposed legislation, but recent history suggests that the GCSB may remain hampered by habitual incompetence. It is difficult not to conclude that if the GCSB were ever asked to organise a beerfest in a brewery, they would fuck the entire thing up.
And these are the people meant to be protecting us. These are the people you want to give more powers to. You think these incompetents can keep us safe from bad people, whoever those bad people might be.
Well, Mr Key, you know best. We’re just a bunch of lawyers with concerns for civil liberties, due process and the rule of law. The people who wrote our submission may have spent years studying how our legal system works, but you’re the boss, right?
We accept now that you may not share our opinion about what is right and proper in a democratic society. We expect you will have been casting around in search of competing views in the hope of convincing your supporters that all opinions are equal; and no doubt you will find someone who thinks allowing us to be spied on is just fine. Ask your Attorney General if you’re struggling. The Attorney General is normally meant to uphold and maintain our legal traditions, but this one seems happy to tell you anything you want to hear.
We see now that the best response to our spies being caught breaching the law is to give them more powers, so that they can do almost anything they want. What could go wrong?
We also now accept that your many years of experience doing deals and trading foreign currency make you a better judge of constitutional and legal matters than us. We merely studied the law. You created it on the hoof, as and when it pleased you to do so.
You accuse anyone who questions you on this issue of being soft on security, and you imply that they don’t care about the safety and welfare of New Zealanders. But history tells us that unrestrained state power can be just as damaging to the safety and security of a nation’s citizens as any external threat. It is legitimate to ask who protects us from our spies and security agencies.
Or so we thought. Sorry about that. You must know all of this already, and you must have weighed all of these factors up when you decided our spies needed more power. We didn’t appreciate that you were a student of history. We all imagined that you probably spent what little leisure time you had reading Richard Branson books or Tom Clancy novels, rather than important scholarly texts.
What use is all our combined wisdom when arrayed against your everyman common-sense? What worth have all the combined teachings of the great common law jurists, like Blackstone, Coke, Denning, Wendell Holmes and Brandeis, compared to your sense of what is right and wrong?
We therefore defer to your greater wisdom and withdraw our submission, with sincere apologies for any inconvenience our quibbling may have caused you and your people.
Note: This post was obviously not written by the Law Society. It is satirical. I’m only stating the obvious so that nobody within that noble and enlightened organisation (I love you guys!) decides to get cross with me.