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Key’s reputation and the law

Written By: - Date published: 12:01 pm, September 15th, 2014 - 26 comments
Categories: accountability, john key, law, Spying - Tags: , , , , ,

An interesting article by lawyer Steven Price at Media Law Journal. Some extracts quoted, but well worth going and reading the full article:

Some questions for the PM

I’m struggling to find the provisions in NZ’s policy about the classification of documents that allow the PM to declassify documents for the purpose of protecting his reputation (his word, not mine, on Morning Report this morning). Perhaps the PM could help me out here.

The PM has said he would declassify documents to prove he stopped a mass surveillance proposal, in response to criticisms by journalist Glenn Greenwald (and, it seems, whistleblower Edward Snowden).

A few other questions spring to mind:

Why were these documents classified in the first place, and who by? What was the security classification?

If they were classified secret or top secret, what was the “serious” or “exceptionally grave” damage to our security operations that would have been caused if we’d known about them, say, at the time we were debating the proper content of our spy laws?  …

Who is directing the reclassification? Because it sounds like the PM is ordering it.  …

So what’s the PM doing making this call? Hasn’t he always told us that operational decisions are the domain of the agencies themselves? (And isn’t his office under investigation for rapidly having SIS information declassified and released to Cameron Slater?)

If the PM is making this decision, is protecting his own reputation a proper consideration? …

Go and read the whole article at Media Law Journal.

26 comments on “Key’s reputation and the law ”

  1. Gruntie 1

    More evidence that what is happening in NZ right now is a democratic constitutional crisis Key is out of control, he has to go, and our Fourth Estate need to front up and call it – help our citizens understand

    • aerobubble 1.1

      Key clearly does not want to understand the mistakes he has made, and the mob that he has blown up targeting him. He was in denial, now he’s moved into negotiation.

      Here’s the documents proving a negative says Key on Morning report.

      The problem is that he admits to believing in mass surveillance, and coupled with his association with Slater, he does not understand the threat to the nation state he himself has become.

  2. Wayne 2

    Interesting questions by Steven Price, but they seem to be operating in a parallel universe.

    If there is a major allegation that the NZ’ers are subject to mass surveillance, which is backed by documents, and that the PM has lied about that, surely it is reasonable that the PM be able to release documents that would refute such allegations (at least to the extent that does not compromise sources, etc).

    The allegations, which are serious and which go so directly to both the integrity of the PM and the security services, so it seems appropriate that the PM ought to be able to properly rebut them.

    The alternative would mean that people could say the assertions by Glenn Greenwald are obviously true, because the PM is not allowed to rebut them except by his own say so.

    How many people who regularly comment on this site would accept the PM’s statements without supporting documents?

    • aerobubble 2.1

      To refute Greenwald, and then in some way exonerate Key, you would need to disprove the Snowden documents. Good luck with that.

    • One Anonymous Bloke 2.2

      The Prime Minister already lied to the country during the debate over the bill.

      Are you such a fool as to trust his further assurances, Dr. Mapp?

      • Wayne 2.2.1

        One Anonymous Bloke,

        In a sense you prove my point. It is the ability of the PM to release documents that matters.

        The Snowden documents might be accurate as far as they go (or at least that is what the PM is saying). But the Snowden documents are limited, in that only cover a snapshot in time. If the government did not proceed after the time period of the Snowden documents, then Snowden and Greenwald would not know that.

        And given that Rebecca Kitterridge has been all over this, it would be a “brave” soul who would suggest she would not tell the truth.

        • One Anonymous Bloke

          Are you auditioning for a play? Dr. Mapp and the Red Herrings. A rock band perhaps?

          The Prime Minister’s integrity is at stake you said. He doesn’t have any, or why did he lie to the nation during the GCSB bill debate.

          Stop trying to smear Rebecca Kitteridge: the Prime Minister stains the National Party and its associates, not her.

          • Anne

            Dr. Mapp and the Red Herrings.

            My instant response too. Wayne, you might be able to fool the sheeple among out population, but don’t play those silly games with us.

            • yeshe

              Dr Mapp and the Red Herrings .. playing now at a microfiche and silicon chip shop near you !

              solid gold OAB.

        • Macro

          When government’s break the law they need to be held accountable – just like everyone else; and the Ministers and officials who are supposed to make sure they don’t, need to lose their jobs. That is the principle at stake here, nothing else.

        • KJT

          Why? We already know Key is a liar. Doesn’t seem to affect those who vote for him too much. Which says something rather unpleasant about a great many right wing voters.

          The thing with revelations that the Government is spying on us to keep themselves in power, keep their fuckups secret, and stifle dissent is, unfortunately, not really news.

          What is frightening, is that so many people think it is fine.

          • Draco T Bastard

            What is frightening, is that so many people think it is fine.


            And that, really, is how civilisations end. The rich get more and more corrupt and a largish part of the population lets and encourages them.

        • Tracey

          You are a Law Commissioner, yes? Do you actually believe what you just wrote and apply your “logic” across the board or only for the PM’s benefit?

          • Wayne


            For the very reason you have noted, I have confined my comments as to whether it is reasonable to release the documents, not the veracity of the documents.

            Although for some even that is controversial.

            I would have thought that any Prime Minister, irrespective of party, would see the need to do so. I note that David Cunliffe is not saying the PM should be barred from releasing the documents, in fact he is saying they should have been released earlier, presumably at the time of the debate on the GCSB Bill.

            • Draco T Bastard

              Considering the political level I think the allegations should have gone to the Supreme Court with the court then requisitioning the documents and doing a full investigation. That way there wouldn’t be any of the politicising that we’re seeing now.

              And at the end of it we’d be able to lay charges.

    • Wayne,

      The point, surely, is that the release of documents previously classified to such a high level (because of the grievous threats to national security their release would involve) trumps any concern about the political career of John Key?

      Even if he is entirely innocent, it should not be possible to risk national security in order to establish that innocence. He either finds another way to defend his innocence or he takes it on the chin – for the collective good (i.e., for the national security).

      That would show true integrity – to sacrifice his personal ambitions for the good of the many.

      • tricledrown 2.3.1

        Wayne trying to defend Keys Merrill Lynch behavior his wheeling and dealing with Hollywood is straight out of Merrill Lynch code of practice Key hasn’t changed his spots !
        Who set up the wealthy investor category only 10 people came in on this Visa!
        Key categorically denies any knowledge is pure BS!

        • Murray Olsen

          He could name the 80 people who went to Australia but had no idea about the ten who came in as filthy rich investors? Hmmmm.

          Wayne is dissembling here, for some known reason. One other thing that occurs to me is to look at the basis on which documents are classified. What on earth is in them that made them secret until Key felt like releasing them? What has changed in terms of threats to national security since last week?

          • North

            Poor Wayne……retired now……battling hard against that ever-niggling sense of irrelevance. A classier resistance than Aaron’s (Gilmore/Bhatnagar) but essentially the same.

    • framu 2.4

      “so it seems appropriate that the PM ought to be able to properly rebut them.”

      but for what purpose wayne

      is it appropriate if its just key protecting his reputation?

      is it appropriate if its about ensuring NZers get a true story free from mis-information and delay?

      then for bonus points – what is keys publicly stated reason for releasing the docs now?

      • KJT 2.4.1

        If they were so vital to NZ security that they be secret.

        Either there was no justification for the secrecy in the first -place, or Key is violating NZ security by releasing them.

        Which is it?

        • framu

          well yes – i agree with you there.

          More following mappies line of reasoning to see what he picks – i reckon he knows its a weak argument anyway

        • To be fair you could argue that given the allegation has been made that said documents are in essence no longer secret, but there’s still a big difference between “journalists claim New Zealand does X” and “government confirms New Zealand tried to do X but may not have succeeded” in terms of security concerns.

          What alarms me is that this declassification can be done so quickly at election time when there’s a political point at stake. This stinks really, really badly of National undermining the neutrality of the public service.

    • Tracey 2.5

      But others cannot demand the release of any such documents to clear their names or prove the PM is telling an untruth.

      Spo, when the PM says he can’t comment on something, even though it would reveal the truth of an issue, you are fine with that? And he does, often.

    • Sue 2.6

      I think the point is that the PM’s motivation for declassifying documents is stated as protecting _his_ reputation (as opposed to the reputation of the office of the PM – although I understand there has been a little blurring of those boundaries lately) rather than reassuring us that no such thing happened.

  3. KJT 3


    “These are two fine examples of why the proprietary kind of information that spies purvey is so much riskier than the products of rational analysis. Rational inferences can be debated openly and widely. Secrets belong to a small assortment of individuals, and inevitably become hostage to private agendas”.

    “Translation: the proper function of spies is to remind those who rely on spies that the kinds of thing found out by spies can’t be trusted.”

    Note that almost all exposures of terrorism has been by conventional police work, including our own home grown incident, the Rainbow Warrior.

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