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No Right Turn: Spy cameras literally are

Written By: - Date published: 6:05 am, June 29th, 2021 - 21 comments
Categories: local government, Spying - Tags: , , , ,

Idiot/Savant at No Right Turn writes:


The Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security (IGIS) has released a report today on the SIS’s use of closed circuit television. The report beings with the scary revelation that those spy cameras in our cities are literally just that:

As part of this review, I examined a particular example of the Service’s access to a CCTV network (the CCTV network) which has been provided to the Service by the network’s operator (the CCTV network provider). These cameras cover most of a New Zealand city centre. The Service has round-the-clock access to the CCTV network, which is accessed from a secure room within the Service’s premises.

It is unclear if this is the only system the SIS has access to, or whether it is one of many. As for how it obtained access, it was apparently under an MOU with the network’s operator. This “agreement” (if there can ever be a valid agreement with a spy agency, given the power imbalances involved) was of course classified, the owner of the system was not allowed to retain a copy, and only three people there even knew about it. Which, given that the operator is almost certainly a local authority (and lets be honest, its almost certainly the Wellington City Council, based on where the spies are and who has cameras), this raises obvious questions of democratic legitimacy and consent. These are of course not considered by IGIS. But the IGIS does raise serious questions about the SIS’s legal basis for access, and recommend they seek the advice of Crown Law on it.

There’s other problems. The SIS’s policy for use of the system is deficient, and downright wrong on expectations of privacy in public spaces (the “reasonable expectation of privacy” standard means that actually following someone’s movements on camera for any prolonged period is a search, as is the use of zoom lenses. A search without a warrant or other legal authority is prima facie unreasonable, and a violation of the BORA right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure). Naturally, they never did a privacy impact assessment. And as usual, their record-keeping is a bit shit. The IGIS recommends that all of these problems be corrected. But despite all of that, they conclude that the SIS’s use of this system is lawful, responsible, and proper.

But that’s not good enough. When local authorities started putting cameras everywhere to manage traffic and ensure “public safety”, they never suggested that they would be used by the SIS to spy on people. And if they had, I suspect public attitudes to these cameras would be very different. Its time for our local authorities (and other bodies such as NZTA) to come clean, and confess whether they allow the SIS to access their camera networks in this way. That would allow the people to judge whether it is acceptable, and hold them accountable if they feel it necessary. But I suspect that that prospect is precisely why the SIS has kept this secret for so long.

21 comments on “No Right Turn: Spy cameras literally are ”

  1. Ad 1

    They have been doing this since Rugby World Cup 2010.

    Catch up Inspector General.

  2. Noel 2

    “My review found the service uses CCTV in a targeted and specific way, not for general surveillance … It does not retain or record footage,” Horsley said in a statement."

  3. RedLogix 3

    Surveillance is with us to stay. As much as I miss the more innocent era which I grew up in, nobody is going to rip the cameras out.

    The problem is the asymmetry of power here; the govt gets to watch us, but we remain blind to what they do with it.

    Perhaps the most extreme scenario I can imagine is one where every human from birth onward is recorded 24/7 with no exceptions for anything private. And all the data is recorded and made public permanently. That way we can examine everything anyone ever does or says to ensure they're being safe. It would pretty much eliminate all crime for a start.

    I know that looks like a mad strawman, but it's where the trend is taking us. Already we're at a place that two decades ago would have seemed crazy, and still the momentum is firmly in the direction of more surveillance not less. Unless we're willing to collectively say no and change direction in another two decades my extreme scenario might not be so crazy.

    Clear definitions around an expectation of privacy, regardless of setting public or private have to be the first step.

    • Craig Hall 3.1

      Not to mention how much more common photos, selfies and videos are now with mobile phones, so even without CCTV cameras, people are giving it away on Facebook etc.

  4. Tiger Mountain 4

    Agree with Idiot/Savant on this–more accountability would be good, even if many New Zealanders seemingly do not give one about such matters. NZ Police trialed various facial recognition software and techniques without full Govt. permission

    https://www.tvnz.co.nz/one-news/new-zealand/police-commit-new-rules-after-unauthorised-trial-facial-recognition-technology

    And Auckland Transport was investigating intersection cameras that would capture both drivers and front seat passengers! For what purpose you might ask…outstanding fines…yeah right.

    Nicky Hager and Martyn Bradbury to name two recent episodes, have proven that sometimes the judiciary and legal profession can come through when State authorities push their luck and stretch the law.

    But wouldn’t it be great if we did not have to put up with these arrogant bastards cruising on the fat increases they gained during the Key years surveilling because they can.

  5. Descendant Of Smith 5

    We'd be better off going the way of Estonia. I like the way you can revoke any departments access to your info when they no longer need it e.g. you can give them access when you apply for a benefit and then when you no longer need that benefit take it away again.

    Branding itself the first “digital republic” in the world, Estonia has digitised 99% of its public services. And, in an era when trust in public services are declining across the globe, Estonia persistently achieves one of the highest ratings of trust in government in the EU. The Estonian government claims that this digitisation of public services saves more than 1,400 years of working time and 2% of its GDP annually.

    https://theconversation.com/estonia-is-a-digital-republic-what-that-means-and-why-it-may-be-everyones-future-145485

    • Craig Hall 5.1

      In theory, the Privacy Act does that now, in that holders of one's personal information aren't supposed to retain it beyond legal requirements to do so, although with government departments, working that out can be difficult in practice because of archive requirements and general financial record-keeping requirements.

      That said, one of the great frustrations of W&I bureaucracy around benefits was (is?) having to provide everything for every application for a benefit, whether MSD have previously held it on file or not e.g. a person's IRD number only changes if they are bankrupt, but evidence of the IRD number is still required at each subsequent application. Agree that people should have the option, but for many (most?), their judgement may be that the convenience outweighs the potential downsides.

      • Descendant Of Smith 5.1.1

        Part of Estonia's approach is that you only provide your info to the government once then you control which ones can see it as required. I've been following what they have been doing for a while and it seems to work.

        • Craig Hall 5.1.1.1

          Sounds like a more organised approach than ours which would be nice…

  6. Descendant Of Smith 6

    This is a good example of why Estonia's highly secure citizen based approach is needed.

    "A new report by New York Attorney General Letitia James has revealed that the US broadband industry funded millions of fake comments – impersonating real people – to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in 2017, opposing net neutrality. The report, titled “Fake Comments: How U.S. Companies & Partisans Hack Democracy to Undermine Your Voice”, revealed that a non-profit called Broadband for America – made up of senior officials from broadband companies and trade groups – spent $4.2 million on over 8.5 million fake comments."

    "these companies simply used customer identities to fake comments."

    https://www.iflscience.com/policy/millions-of-fake-antinet-neutrality-comments-to-us-regulator-funded-by-broadband-industry/

  7. RedBaronCV 7

    They want more cohesion? And to give the cops the right to make criminal charges for insulting language???

    Maybe the government needs to stop spying on us and lying to us. When did it become acceptable to see every ordinary citizen as a potential criminal that needs to be spied on in public places. And just how many billions are we wasting on this useless surveillance. To collect a few traffic tickets maybe – it is completely nuts. And the cops keep crying poor and wanting more money – while they do this and run all over the likes of Nicky Hager.

  8. Paul Campbell 8

    A few years ago I was pissed off by the police saying they were trialing facial recognition software without any public discussion so I publicly declared the rest of my life to be "performance art".

    Now under section 171 of the copyright act everyone who wants to record my performance must obtain permission and a license before they do so …..

    • Phil 8.1

      I am 100% certain your daily life is simply not sufficiently interesting or intentionally creative enough to be declared an artistic work, as defined in s2 "artistic work" of the Copyright Act… so any complaint made on that basis would be laughed out of court, regardless of what you think s171 says.

      • Paul Campbell 8.1.1

        The act describes an "artistic work" as a made object and distinguishes it from literary, dramatic, and musical work and expects that these lat 3 might be performed (unlike and "artistic work"). The definitions of a dramatic work is left open though the act makes sure that it could possibly include a dance/mime/film script. It doesn't require it to be interesting – I'm sure it covers Cage's "4:33"

        Section 171 is however now about 'works' per se but performances of them

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