NEW ZEALAND’S spy agency is under fire after is was revealed it had illegally spied on people on 88 occasions.
A report on the GCSB (Government Communications Security Bureau) was initiated as a result of the Kim Dotcom affair, and is was found 88 people may have been wrongly been watched on behalf of the domestic Security Intelligence Service (SIS).
A raid on Mr Dotcom’s mansion had been deemed illegal.
Prime Minister John Key said the report made for “for sobering reading”.
“At a high level it finds long-standing, systemic problems with the GCSB’s compliance systems and aspects of its organisation and culture”, Mr Key said in a statement.
“In addition, the Act governing the GCSB is not fit for purpose and probably never has been.”
Mr Key admitted the report would affect public confidence in the GCSB, and the Government had formed “a comprehensive response underway to address the organisational problems” discovered in the report.
“The steps we are taking will be outlined in detail next week and are intended to begin the process of rebuilding public confidence in GCSB.”
Police had reported that no “arrest prosecution or any other legal processes have occurred as a result of the information supplied to NZSIS by GCSB”.
In an executive summary, Cabinet Secretary Rebecca Kitteridge had sought advice from the Solicitor General Mike Heron QC on instances where the GCSB had provided assistance to domestic spy agency the SIS, and the Police since before the GCSB Act was passed in 2003, APNZ reported.
The Solicitor General had confirmed problems in interpreting the Act, “and the risk of an adverse outcome if a Court were to consider the basis of that assistance” in instances concerning 88 individuals.
A second report on those instances which occurred between April 1 2003 and September last year had been provided to Mr Key, who is the minister responsible for the bureau, “so that he can determine the appropriate action to be taken”.
“I conclude, in relation to this and other legal issues, and to ensure that GCSB can carry out its work in the future with a clear understanding of the law, that legislative clarification would be desirable.”
Most of the problems cae from the application of section 14 of the GCSB Act, which forbids the bureau from intercepting communications of New Zealand citizens or permanent residents.
She found bureau staff did not think section 14 applied when the GCSB had been asked to assist the SIS when that agency was working under a warrant.
The GCSB believed it was operating under the legal authority of those warrants.
The GCSB also thought it could hand over “metadata” such as information from telephone bills because it was not “communication” as set out in section 14.
The head of GCSB, Ian Fletcher told ONE News that the report sets out a number of things the GCSB needs to fix.
“It exposes a number of shortcomings in the way the compliance framework within GCSB has operated over a number of years, and underneath that it exposes a number of issues of cultural and organisational behaviour that we needs to address,” he said.
It was taking the report “extremely seriously”, and it was focused on implementing the immediate recommendations about the compliance and legal framework that apply to the agency as quickly as possible.
“I think that goes to public confidence and that certainly goes to my confidence that the organisation is going to be able to continue to give the Government and the wider public the assurance that it needs,” Mr Fletcher said.