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Spying on another journalist – what did Key have to hide?

Written By: - Date published: 7:18 am, August 6th, 2013 - 78 comments
Categories: accountability, john key, Media, Spying - Tags: , , , , ,

The evidence on why John Key and his government cannot be trusted with their spying power just keeps adding up. That power is used indiscriminately and inappropriately. Journalists spied on so far include Andrea Vance, Jon Stephenson, and now, so we learned in the weekend, Bradley Ambrose:

Police seize Cuppagate texts

Lawyers are demanding a review of how police intercept private communications after a photo-journalist’s cellphone logs and messages, including exchanges with a lawyer, were obtained in and inquiry instigated by the PM.

Police seized the text messages of a photo-journalist involved in the “teapot tape” saga, including exchanges with his family, his lawyer and Herald on Sunday journalists.  Auckland University associate law professor Bill Hodge describes the police actions as “mind-boggling”. …

Texts between Ambrose and his lawyer Ron Mansfield were among those seized by police, in what Mansfield says was a breach of lawyer-client privilege.

The revelation comes hard on the heels of the discovery that logs of Fairfax political journalist Andrea Vance’s phone calls and emails were supplied by the Parliamentary Service to the Prime Minister’s inquiry into GCSB leaks, and the allegation that the NZ Defence Force asked its US counterparts to track the communications and movements of war correspondent Jon Stephenson.

… The text messages appear to confirm that the recording was inadvertent, not a deliberate News of the World-style conspiracy as Key had claimed.

… But Auckland University associate professor Bill Hodge said it was “mind-boggling” police would intercept text messaging over such a minor charge, especially when the Evidence Act 2006 provided clear protections for journalists to guarantee the freedom of the media. “Why in hell would they have those, for what investigatory purpose?” he asked.

Once again an enquiry initiated by the PM goes off the rails and invades a journalist’s privacy. This is systematic bullying of the media. Brian Rudman makes some very salient points:

Big Brother’s agents keep bumbling on

Unleashing of the oppressive power of the state in trivial incidents should alarm all democrats.

Agents of the state have always had an insatiable appetite for snooping. … The Big Brother crisis rapidly enveloping John Key’s Government is deliciously highlighting that our present masters are carrying on an old tradition. If not very adroitly. Every day brings another bumble.

Yesterday, the Herald on Sunday exposed how the police obtained, with a search warrant, a dossier of 323 text messages sent and received by Bradley Ambrose, the cameraman at the centre of the ridiculous “Teagate” incident during the 2011 election campaign. … As it turns out, the emails are said to prove Mr Ambrose innocent of any deliberate intent to record the meeting. But included in the emails was correspondence with his lawyer, which should have been protected.

The incident shows how easy it is for the police to get a search warrant on a minor charge. Law professor Bill Hodge calls it “mind-boggling”, which is a good summary of not just this incident but the procession of invasions of privacy that has been unfolding under the present Government.

That the oppressive power of the state has been unleashed to intimidate the media in two trivial incidents should alarm all democrats, especially as Mr Key seems naively oblivious to the potential repercussions. …

If ever there was a time for an inquiry into privacy and the role of our spy agencies, it is now. With a growing number of journalists and politicians addicted to revealing every skerrick of gossip and insight they come upon, on Twitter and Facebook anyway, there must be many outsiders wondering what all the fuss is about.

Or, as Mr Key has said a hundred times, if you’ve got nothing to hide, what have you got to worry about?

He only has to think back to his angry reaction to finding the microphone on his table at the Epsom tea party to know the answer to that facile quip.

Everyone has secrets they prefer not to share – particularly not with the all-powerful Big Brother John Key and the state apparatus.

John Key accused the media of “News of the World tabloid tactics” when in fact it was his own enquiry that was using them. He clearly doesn’t believe his own “nothing to hide nothing to fear” nonsense. The full power of the state was used to protect the “privacy” of his media stunt. But no privacy for Vance, Stephenson, Ambrose, or the rest of us.

This government under John Key does not use its spying powers competently or appropriately. There is no guarantee that some future government will not be even worse. The Key-Dunne spying Bill should be rejected pending a proper enquiry and proper safeguards. Peter Dunne, please take note.

78 comments on “Spying on another journalist – what did Key have to hide? ”

  1. One Anonymous Knucklehead 1

    It’s far wider than the GCSB – we need to have a serious debate about privacy across the board. What private information, under what circumstances, should be accessible by government? The status quo is “all information, all the time”.

    • UglyTruth 1.1

      So what is the nature of the threat, exactly?

      • felix 1.1.1

        Same as always; decentralisation of power.

        • Colonial Viper 1.1.1.1

          Or put another way: the democratisation of power.

        • UglyTruth 1.1.1.2

          Who is threatened by the decentralisation or democratisation of power?

          • vto 1.1.1.2.1

            easy money is so threatened

          • RJL 1.1.1.2.2

            Those undemocratic, centralised institutions that currently hold that power.

            • UglyTruth 1.1.1.2.2.1

              What is the nature of the power that these institutions hold?
              Can it be described in other than monetary terms?

              • vto

                the unchallengeable power to define the rules of engagement within our society

                • UglyTruth

                  What are the rules of engagement within society?
                  Are they defined by undemocratic and centralised institutions, or is there more to it than that?

                  • North

                    Ugly Truth – it is clear that whatever response is given your response will be yet another question. You are not actually seeking answers at all. You are being dim and/or schoolboyishly obstructive not to say intellectually dishonest.

                    Did you not even attempt to understand VTO’s response ?

                    As I take his mention of the rules of engagement within society he is referring to the rule of law. We are all parties to an accord which embraces and impacts on the widest range of human acivity. That the accord does so embrace is confirmed by the fact of the Human Rights Commission, the Privacy Commission and many, many other authoritative statutorily established and empowered entities, each with a specific area of interest/responsibility.

                    Law breaking in the name of central power which touches any of the manifold matters acknowledged by the accord is a breach of the rule of law. To then legislate in an enabling way, relying on a bare and questionably engineered majority to do so, is a contempt of the rule of law as fashioned by the accord.

                    Do you really need to be spoonfed the patent dangers in that ?

                    You might like to ponder one word – oligarchy.

                • vto

                  your first question is immaterial and your second already answered

                  but what is your point?

                  • UglyTruth

                    You can’t play the game effectively if you don’t know what the rules are.
                    Assuming that their power cannot be challenged means that you have already lost.

                    The point is that the remedy from this exchange is a decentralised form of democracy.

                    • vto

                      knowing what the rules of engagement are is immaterial to how they are brought about (for the purposes of this)

                      unchallengeable in a technical law-making sense was of course what was meant, not wholly unchallengeable as that would mean we don’t even have pitchforks.

                      I agree power and democracy needs to be decentralised. I thought you might be heading for some other final point.

                    • UglyTruth

                      They way in which the rules are brought about is very relevant.
                      How else can power be challenged apart from pitchforks?

                    • vto

                      “They way in which the rules are brought about is very relevant.”

                      Sure, that is what is being discussed. But for the purposes of this discussion, what those rules actually are is not relevant.

                      “How else can power be challenged apart from pitchforks?”

                      One example – a judiciary independent of the executive which has the power perhaps through something like a constitution to override that power.

                      Two example – a system of binding referendum on certain areas of rule-making e.g. criminal acts, taxation.

                      Three example – limits being placed on the rule-makers by the rule-subjectees.

                      I’m still lost as to your point though ……..

                    • UglyTruth

                      “But for the purposes of this discussion, what those rules actually are is not relevant.”

                      Isn’t the purpose of this discussion to reach an understanding of the nature of the threat or threats of state espionage? The way I read it the threat involves institutional power expressed as rules in society, which implies that the nature of the rules is quite relevant, especially when contemplating what the forms of power are which shape these rules.

                      The point I’m trying to make is that artificially that limiting the scope of the discussion suggests an agenda which strives to keep attention away from forms of power other than institutional power.

                    • UglyTruth

                      Gack. “artificially that limiting” should be “artificially limiting”

              • RJL

                What is the nature of the power that these institutions hold?

                The power to control, coerce, and define society.

                Can it be described in other than monetary terms?

                Of course. In fact, it cannot be described in purely monetary terms. Money is just a token.

                • UglyTruth

                  To control, coerce, or define is a description of what power does rather than what it is. Power is sometimes described as involving a right to do something combined with the ability to do it.

                • Colonial Viper

                  And more to the fact, a token which behaviour and supply is defined by these same large institutions.

                  Currently this behaviour and supply of the money tokens can be characterised as:

                  – deliberate scarcity of supply
                  – debt based creation of electronic money
                  – money creation controlled and/or mediated by private investment banks
                  – governmental sovereignty over the issuance of national currencies undermined
                  – interest accumulating usury ensuring that debt repayment can only occur using money created by additional debt.

      • aerobubble 1.1.2

        Yes, exactly. What does Dunne have to hide, does he have any rights to privacy, self-incrimination. What does Key have to hide over the teapot tapes, ridicule?

        This brave new world requires reciprocity, governments will make mistakes when collecting out information, they will inadvertently expose us all to ridicule (x-rays of objects up a mans arse), to WINZ kiosk child protection data… …the list in ongoing and growing.

        So surely the first question should be who has a right to privacy under the new law, those in power who can control the information obviously, but not those who can’t pander to Key (like Dunne), or Key himself who can launch raids of all major news outlets.

        Seems to me that its obvious there something very wrong in the way we are empowering the powerful.

    • Veutoviper 1.2

      Absolutely agree, OAK.

      One thing that was mentioned but only in passiing when Key and Dunne reached agreement that Dunne would support the GCSB Bill, was that as part of that agreement:

      “In addition, Mr Dunne will be working alongside the Minister of Justice on the issues raised by the Law Commission’s 2010 report “Invasion of Privacy: Penalties and Remedies.” This review will include the definition of private communication (and metadata) to ensure a standard definition is developed for insertion in the GCSB and NZSIS Acts, and all relevant legislation such as the Crimes Act and the Search and Surveillance Act.”

      Source: UF press release dated 22 July 2013 http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/PA1307/S00340/major-changes-agreed-to-gcsb-bill.htm

      Dunne also referred to his history on privacy in a guest editorial he did in the NBR on July 26 on why he would support the GCSB Bill:

      The suggestion that I appeared “for a time” to be “something of a privacy champion” overlooks history. I have been a privacy champion for over 20 years – indeed, in the early 1990s I drafted what became our Privacy Act, and have retained a close interest in privacy issues ever since. Indeed, it was on the principle of the protection of the privacy of communications that I resigned as a Minister.

      That is why I have negotiated a comprehensive work programme to update the definition of private communications (including the treatment of metadata) across a range of legislation in this area, including the GCSB and SIS Acts, the Crimes Act, and the Search and Surveillance Act. The need to do so was raised by many submissions on the current Bill, but no-one I consulted was able to provide an immediate solution, and all agreed that a more detailed work programme was needed, which is what I have ensured will happen as a priority.

      http://www.nbr.co.nz/article/no-flip-flop-gcsb-bill-ck-143402

      So while apparently there is to be a review on privacy based on the 2010 Law Commission report, this is to undertaken by – drum roll – Collins and Dunne.

      Yeah, right …..we can all expect a great outcome. And why has the 2010 report not been acted upon already? [Rhetorical question.]

    • One Anonymous Knucklehead 1.3

      It is clear that other nations practise ubiquitous global surveillance. It makes no practical sense that information available to them should be denied our government.

      So the first question is: can we implement privacy at all?

      If so, then that should be a national priority. If not, then what?

      • aerobubble 1.3.1

        Its about oversight, the government of the day should not have it all its own way. And at the core of this debate is Key’s insistence that Labour cannot be trusted on National Security because Clark did the nasty too. Its the politics that stink, this should be a 66% of parliament to pass this bill, and if needs be the discussion should be behind closed doors. Its just shambolic that Banks and Dunne get to sit on oversight of intelligence services and won’t abide any democratic oversight, wtf are they saints? Do they not get it, people do cheat in elections, get donations they should have declared, people do get the hots for a journalist and start talking about things they should not of, the correct way to build some integrity, some trust, some resilience is to open up the floor and introduces some checks and balances. Sure the information is there, its going to be collected by China anyway, and its a good idea to get out in front before the Chinese (or whomeever) start twisting our govt officials to get their way.

  2. Skinny 2

    What angers me is as a citizen & representative of others Kiwi’s of this Country, I’ve legitimately been in parliament building raising some serious concerns, which caused some embarrassment & discomfort to a Minister & the Government. And now as a result of these illegally spy activities, I feel my rights of privacy are most likely to have been breached by ‘J. Edgar Hoover- John Key.’

    We need absolute certainty that strong measures are in place that law abiding citizens of New Zealand are protected from Big Brother conduct. 

    • Skinny 2.1

      *illegal

    • vto 2.2

      skinny, I think the horse has bolted. Of course the horse has bolted. The communication systems today are such that it is easier to spy and it is easier to get the technology to spy.

      I fear we will never return to anything like privacy (at least, online….).

      So the issue moves on to the next question – given that the government records all of our information and communication, what do we need to do to protect ourselves and our private matters? And surely it doesn’t need stating that expecting the government to attend to this is deluded in the extreme.

      Isn’t this where we are at?

      • Sable 2.2.1

        Really depends who you vote into office. This is no doubt going to cop me some flak but my feeling is if Keys or Labour take control the spying will continue. If other non traditional parties such as the Greens have a say in government it may well be watered down considerably.

        • vto 2.2.1.1

          I’m sure you’re broadly correct there Sable. But that would last as long as it took for Labour or National to get back in. There is no security in that approach imo.

          It is a sad day that we now see the government as our foe. They are trying their hardest to intrude and extend their legal rights, at our expense. There is no trust in their statements around privacy and spying – it is an impossibility. The government is acting as if it is its own beast – it has grown to take on its own persona and life, its own rights separate from the citizens who created it. It is like an out of control robot. It is Frankenstein.

          This is the point we are at.

          We must protect ourselves from the state.

          • Sable 2.2.1.1.1

            You could well be right vto but you have to have some hope there are decent people in some of these political groups. If not then how do we protect ourselves?

      • Arfamo 2.2.2

        Yeah, I think you’ve stated the problem exactly. I expect the next few years to see various programmers designing applications or systems that allow people to hide /protect their information and personal data, and high paid security services and contractors busily working away busting them. At the moment it looks to me like everything we do online or via telephones is going to be traceable by government agencies and will stay that way.

        • Skinny 2.2.2.1

          I can see why Microsoft, Google, Yahoo… etc are so vehemently opposed to the GCSB bill. In affect they companies are forced to install spy capability-ness for USA & the other 4 Countries spy agencies. hugely costly & technology restrictive by the sounds of it The state will legislate against privacy encryption, against themselves of course. Orwellian or what? If that makes sense?

  3. tc 3

    Remember everyone, the teapot tapes was a discussion between 2 public figures at a staged media event using a window seat reserved for them in an auckland business district coffee shop so the MSM could fill their boots.

    WTF is private about that !

  4. David H 4

    OOHH so in replying to you they will now start to spy on me!! Oh well they may learn how to bring up a 2 year old lol. or that I am firmly to the left of the divide. Quick everyone reply keep the spooks on their toes.

  5. Sable 5

    The reality is there has not been privacy on line for a very long time. We can not prevent government spying BUT we can legislate to make it mostly illegal stopping the snoopers from using it against us without a VERY good reason. Keys wants to take that right away so he can do as he pleases. When this happens we really have no rights on line and this is the real concern in my opinion.

    • One Anonymous Knucklehead 5.1

      That’s the guts of it isn’t it – we might be able to provide privacy (by building a secure national network for example), but we can definitely provide for harsh penalties for those who break the rules around it.

  6. Naturesong 6

    the police obtained, with a search warrant, a dossier of 323 text messages sent and received by Bradley Ambrose

    Some questions;
    Is current law allowing search warrants so broad that the judge signing off on the warrant was acting appropriately in allowing this fishing expedition?
    Or, was the judge being too accommodating to the police in signing the warrant?
    And if so what systemic checks are built into the judiciary to ensure rogue police / government friendly judges are held to account?

    Apologies in advance if this is stuff is a no-brainer, my google foo was not strong enough to discover the info myself.

    • Sable 6.1

      The new laws passed recently by the harpy Collins means they can pretty much do as they like. All manner of weird and wonderful things are now illegal including a Cradle of Filth ( a rock bands) tea shirt.

      Really searching on line for anything but the most mundane material now could land you in trouble even if you did not know you had done anything wrong. This is in spite of the fact that laws have traditionally applied the standard of the “reasonable person” what would a normal person do. These laws subvert this principal and really reflect how far we have moved away from being a true democracy.

      With Keys spy law it gets worse again, you could be monitored for simply visiting a site like this one and depending on what you say maybe even arrested. In the US under, I think, the Patriots Act one young man was arrested for using a chat program in a library that led to a few critical comments regarding then President Bush. He made no treats just a few colourful remarks about how much he disliked the man. He was detained and questioned by the FBI for over six hours and eventually released. After that would you be critical again? This is the insidious thing about these kinds of laws, they silence legitimate opposition and enforce conformity.

      • Colonial Viper 6.1.1

        And given that the most powerful in the US get away scott free with lying to Congress, stealing billions in funds, insider trading, shooting unarmed blacks, etc. while authorities vindictively go after protestors, students and low level system admin types, says a lot about the current US take on the “rule of law”.

        • vto 6.1.1.1

          The US state is out of control, like ours. States have grown too large and have concentrated to themselves too much power. This issue has highlighted this reality.

          In the US it seems to me that power there is also so widely spread around their state system that it is impossible for one individual, or even one grouping, to control and amend its wayward ways, which work against the interests of US citizens.

          As such, the US is rolling on to its end point, out of control. No person or persons can control it – it just keeps going and going and going, feeding and maintaining itself as its own dangling carrot. It will end when it implodes or explodes.

      • Naturesong 6.1.2

        Cheers,

        I have read the GCSB bill
        http://www.legislation.govt.nz/bill/government/2013/0109/latest/versions.aspx
        And the TICS bill
        http://www.legislation.govt.nz/bill/government/2013/0108/latest/versions.aspx

        Do you have links to the Collins legislation you mention (or the name of the bill/s)?
        And if anyone could reply to my question about judicial process and accountability?

        A quick note, I don’t think calling Judith Collins a harpy is either appropriate or helpful. Describing her as a bully and devoid of any ethical compass is more accurate.

      • infused 6.1.3

        Just use tor if are so keen to hide your habbits.

      • Anne 6.1.4

        Bear in mind it is the government of the day – and in particular the prime-minister – that determines the modus operandi of the public services under their control including the security intelligence services. It is the prime-minister who has the power to bully them into a culture of arrogance and authoritarism (as Muldoon did) and we are seeing it appear again at an alarming rate.

        I have more faith in Labour to do whatever is necessary to turn that culture around and sort things out to the satisfaction of most people. They have promised a full and independent inquiry into the security services and that is what will happen. Perhaps they need to extend that inquiry to include other areas involving security matters like the police, customs, border control etc. – and parliamentary services. 🙂

        There are former security personnel who have publicly supported a full inquiry, and I bet there are current personnel who feel the same way. The best we can hope for is that we get a Labour/Green govt. in 2014 and then we know it will happen.

        • insider 6.1.4.1

          Anne

          re your faith in labour, remember they wrote most of the laws that have put us in a pickle. They are yet to offer any practical advice as to how to resolve it, despite having a large number of veteran mps who helped pass those laws

          • Veutoviper 6.1.4.1.1

            And National also supported/voted for the 2003 GCSB Bill.

            • insider 6.1.4.1.1.1

              I’m sure they did – it doesn’t read all that controversially given 9/11 was a recent event

          • Anne 6.1.4.1.2

            They were responsible for updating legislation in 2003. They are NOT responsible for a bunch of sociopaths getting into power in 2008 and misusing that legislation for their own purposes on the spurious grounds that it wasn’t clear what the law meant. It was clear alright, but it means even more safeguards will have to be incorporated – after a full and independent inquiry so that everything can be seen to be transparent – in the hope another sociopathic Nat. led government won’t try to do it again.

            Now off you go and play with your peers insider. This is not a topic for simpletons.

            • insider 6.1.4.1.2.1

              This would be the different group of sociopaths than the Helen Clark led ones who possibly misused that same legislation far more times.

              you’re just getting silly Anne

              • Anne

                A well known ploy. The guilty party accuses the opponent of being the guilty party.

                • insider

                  So why the guilty conscience Anne?

                  • Anne

                    There insider goes again. 😈

                    • Colonial Viper

                      88 NZers spied on illegally in the last 10 or so years. The assumption is that many will have been on Helen Clark’s watch, and I have not heard anyone try to refute this.

                      Don’t forget the illegal police surveillance in the Ureweras.

                      The likes of Clare Curran, plus the MP who most recently leaked to Garner etc give me no faith whatsoever in significant portions of the Labour caucus to be able to maintain confidentiality or not misuse information to harm ordinary citizens.

                      I think we would be extremely foolish to trust our privacy to any specific political party or seemingly sincere leader. There need to be strict rules, oversight, transparency, independent review and accountability applied to ALL governments.

              • Rosetinted

                insider
                Which and when? If you are going to make an issue about it state your favourite example not just throw words around.

          • lprent 6.1.4.1.3

            You mean the laws that the courts upheld? The judgements that said that both the GCSB and police went well over the line of the law?

            I’d say that the laws look ok. It is the police and GCSB have been breaking what the legislation intended. My interpretation is that some plonkers with an exaggerated sense of the their authority took it upon themselves to get and believe in some crap advice on what the courts would interpret the laws to be. Then they even over-steeped that.

            Meanwhile foolish apologists like yourself fall all over themselves like a screaming teen in love with their favourite band. Saying that the laws were at fault wasn’t the problem. It was the idiots in the police and GCSB trying to extend their powers beyond what the law actually allowed.

            The laws aren’t even ambiguous. They just don’t say what those fools and yourself prefer that they said. Perhaps you should point to the sections that you are confused about? I’m sure someone will explain what they mean.

            • insider 6.1.4.1.3.1

              I think you’re confused. I ‘m not aware of the courts saying gcsb went over any line. The PM did but he’s a sociopath apparently so why suddenly start believing him?

              the law is clearly ambiguous – even your personal love interest Helen Clark says everything done under her watch was within the law, and that’s when most of the bad stuff happened.

              • Pascal's bookie

                “and that’s when most of the bad stuff happened”

                Cite?

                • insider

                  I’m meaning the potentially unlawful surveillance work done on 88 Individuals since 2003 that Kittredge identified, most of which I believe were authorized by Helen Clark. She was in power most of that time so no surprise in that.

                  • lprent

                    No way of knowing. Kittredge just looked at the previous 10 years and provided no breakdown by time.

                    I have an alternate theory that actually has some thought behind it (your one does not). Your ‘theory’ appears to have a major hole in it. John Key is a lazy fool… Helen Clark was not.

                    Based on the performance of the police in the last 4 or 5 years, I’d take odds on most of them being done under John Key’s lax watch. By the look of his own admissions you could shove a lump of paper or even a video in front of him and he’d never notice.

                    Helen, you could trust to at least read them and ask for explanations when they seemed dodgy. Seriously, a monkey could get things past Key.

                    • insider

                      Yes that’s right, there was a miraculous change four years ago and everything was flowers and fairy dust before then. Oh except for the ureweras stuff right? Oh and zaoui, too. Helen must have been skiing those days.

                    • lprent []

                      I was pointing out that you were talking out of your arse (not that was unusual) – because you simply cannot know.

                      Just to make it as irritating as your pathetic “argument”. I did a Pete George (just like your one), and intoned some relatively unrelated “facts” to “prove” my equally “unbiased” argument.

                      If you stop being such a gormless fuckwit then I’ll stop satirising/mirroring your silly pontifications on things that you cannot possibly know.

                      Fool… Have you ever read what you wrote and thought how it looks to others. At least I do this kind of crap deliberately. (Besides you were astroturfing that comment – always irritating)

                  • Pascal's bookie

                    So you’re just bullshitting then. Thought as much..

  7. tracey 7

    Insider

    so key and his govts misuse of information is labours fault?

    The apologists are struggling

  8. tracey 8

    Insider please outline what most of the bad stuff was?

  9. tracey 9

    Ah…. source for since 2003?

  10. tracey 10

    Thanks.

    thank god for keys 2008 promise for transparency

    • burt 10.1

      It’s looking as hollow as Clark’s promise of a new standard of openness and accountability….

      Why do people still support these self serving major parties ?

  11. Populuxe1 11

    Call me picky, but Bradley Ambrose isn’t a journalist, he’s a camera man. He doesn’t interview anyone or write stories, he points the camera.

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