Home > Social Issues, The Body Politic > The Rise and Rise of Daddy State: MSD blackmails NGOs for private data

The Rise and Rise of Daddy State: MSD blackmails NGOs for private data

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Nanny State takes a Shower

What do showers have to do with this issue?

Wait and see.

Spying, Spooks, and Silly Journos

Nearly five years ago, the highly controversial Search and Surveillance Act 2012 was passed by National. As reported at the time;

The Search and Surveillance Act, which was passed through Parliament in March, extends production and examination orders to the police and legalises some forms of surveillance.

It will let more government agencies carry out surveillance operations, allows judges to determine whether journalists can protect their sources, and changes the right to silence.

[…]

Police could complete some forms of surveillance and searches without warrants, but [Police Assistant Commissioner Malcolm] Burgess said the situations were pretty common sense.

Yes, indeed. Police surveillance and seizure powers were being massively extended. But according to the Police Commissioner, citizens could rely on the Police using “pretty common sense” to use them.

Then-Justice Minister, Judith Collins offered this excuse for the extension of police powers;

The new Search and Surveillance Act 2012 brings “order, certainty, clarity and consistency” to messy, unclear and outdated search and surveillance laws.

(Interestingly, the fact that Collins felt the need to use irony-quotation-marks, in her Beehive statement, to enclose the phrase order, certainty, clarity and consistency is revealing.)

This is the same Judith Collins who, in 2009, passed personal phone numbers of a civil servant to far-right blogger, Cameron “Whaleoil” Slater.

A year later,  the Government Communications Security Bureau and Related Legislation Amendment Bill  was being hotly debated throughout the country.

Essentially, the Bill (since passed into law), would allow the GCSB to spy on New Zealand citizens which up to then had been the sole province of the NZ SIS.

National’s  ‘spinned message’ – constantly parroted by Dear  Leader Key – was;

In addition, the Act governing the GCSB is not fit for purpose and probably never has been.  It was not until this review was undertaken that the extent of this inadequacy was known

[…]

The advice we have recently received from the Solicitor-General is that there are difficulties interpreting the legislation and there is a risk some longstanding practices of providing assistance to other agencies would not be found to be lawful.

[…]

It is absolutely critical the GCSB has a clear legal framework to operate within.”

In fact, the law was clear with it’s wording and intent and Section 14 of the Act (since altered to reflect the Amendment) stated with crystal clarity;

14Interceptions not to target domestic communications
  • Neither the Director, nor an employee of the Bureau, nor a person acting on behalf of the Bureau may authorise or take any action for the purpose of intercepting the communications of a person (not being a foreign organisation or a foreign person) who is a New Zealand citizen or a permanent resident.

Some journalists were too lazy to fact-check Key’s lies;

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Journalists who failed to realise that Key was being disingenuous, and simply parroted the government’s official spin, did immense damage to public understanding of the issues involved.

Others, like Audrey Young and Tracy Watkins were sufficiently experienced and knowledgeable to recognise a government ‘stitch-up’ when they saw it;

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“ The GCSB Act 2003 expressly forbids it from spying on the communications of New Zealanders.  But, by a series of snakes and ladders through the stated functions and objectives of the act, it convinced itself it was allowed to help the SIS and police spy on New Zealanders.” – Audrey Young, 26 June 2013

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“ The GCSB’s interpretation of the law was so loose it managed to spy on 88 New Zealanders even though the law specifically stated it was not allowed to do so.” – Tracy Watkins, 3 August 2013

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National ignored strong public opinion wary of extending the GCSB’s surveillance powers. The Bill became law on 26 August 2013.

The Government Communications Security Bureau and Related Legislation Amendment Act was followed by the Telecommunications (Interception Capability and Security) Act (TICS), made law on 11 November 2013.

The TICS law made it mandatory for all electronic communications companies (telcos) to comply with spy  agencies demands to  intercept and decrypt phone calls, txt-messages, and emails.

The excuse for this piece of intrusive legislation from Communications Minister, Amy Adams;

“ The fundamental reason that I have sought to introduce this bill is to safeguard New Zealand public safety and security. ”

The Telecommunications (Interception Capability and Security) Act was, in turn, followed by the Countering Terrorist Fighters Legislation Bill (split into several Bills after it’s Second Reading in Parliament on  9 December 2014).

This Bill, covering  three existing laws, allowed the  SIS  to conduct surveillance on terrorist suspects without requiring a judicial a warrant for up to 24 hours; to conduct secret video surveillance on private property; gave SIS access to Customs Department data in relation to suspected terrorism, and allowed the  Minister of Internal Affairs increased  powers to arbitrarily suspend or  cancel a passport.

The Labour Party were so opposed to this law change  that they voted for it. (NZ First, the Maori Party, and the Greens,  to their credit, voted against it.)

Then Dear Leader  Key used the usual “defending Kiwis against terrorist” bogeyman to justify the State’s growing surveillance powers;

“ The threats faced by New Zealand have grown and it is important that we have the ability to respond to that. The Government has a responsibility to protect New Zealanders at home and abroad…”

Simultaneously in 2014, the IRD signed an agreement to share data with the Police;

Taxpayer information is required to administer New Zealand’s tax system effectively. This information can be supplied by taxpayers, or it can be collected by Inland Revenue during an audit.

Broadly, the government’s current legislative position is that this information is not shared with other government departments on the basis that it is ‘tax secret’.

However, there are instances where sharing taxpayer information relating to serious crime could bring offenders to justice, support the goals of other government departments, and offer the State broad efficiencies.

Up until that point, the IRD expected everyone who earned money – whether from legal or illegal mean – to pay tax. This meant that, for example, sex workers prior to 2003 would be expected to pay tax on their earnings regardless of the fact it was an illegal activity.

The tax department didn’t care where or how the money was earned – they just wanted their “fare share”.

After 2014, the IRD abandoned that policy, and data-sharing with Police was implemented. It means that taxing other illegal activities such as the production and sale of cannabis, is no longer feasible. This has unintentional consequences – such as the hoarding of cash; use of firearms to protect that cash; and violence.

This is part of an on-going wider process of government departments sharing private information with each other.

The Government Communications Security Bureau and Related Legislation Amendment Act, Telecommunications (Interception Capability and Security) Act, and Countering Terrorist Fighters Legislation Bill all follow on from previous extensions of State power, notably  the  Terrorism Suppression Act 2002.

This poorly thought-out law was Labour’s contribution to George Bush’s ill-conceived “War on Terror”.

Throughout National’s three terms in office, it has extended Police powers; widened the scope for the GCSB and SIS to spy on New Zealanders; and created a vast data-sharing network amongst it’s bureaucracy.

MSD, NGOs, and Demands for Data

To date, New Zealanders have been mostly apathetic as the government build up it’s ability to spy and store personal information on us. Most of the government’s “targets” have been so-called “terrorists”, immigrants, criminals, student-debt defaulters, and those on welfare benefits or living in state houses.

Most of Middle New Zealand find it difficult to identify with these elements of our society.

Recently, however, Radio NZ has been running a series of stories and interviews on a disturbing development regarding state aquisition of personal information.

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On 2 March, on Radio NZ’s Nine To Noon programme, Kathryn Ryan interviewed Brenda Pilott, the chairperson  of ComVoices (an umbrella organisation for NGOs).

At issue was the disturbing revelation that the Ministry of Social Development (MSD), presumably under direction from National ministers,  was forcing NGOs to collect and pass  private information about their clients back to the Ministry,  in return for on-going funding. This proviso was to be written into new contracts set to take effect in July this year after negotiations had concluded after Easter.

>Kathryn Ryan interviews Brenda Pilott – 2 March<

Accordingly to Comvoices, NGOs were expected  to pass on;

  • names of clients
  • birth dates
  • ethnicity
  • other personal details such as dependent children’s names

NGOs that refused to share this information with MSD would forego funding. The result would be predictable;

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According to Brenda Pilot, the Ministry’s excuse to demand this data was;

“ They want to be able to find out what services are effective. And that this will provide information over time that will  allow sensible decisions to be made about government funding and where to apply that funding.”

Ms Pilot voiced concerns that private, identifiable  information would be used for tracking individuals who used NGO services. She said that vulnerable people needing to use services such as counselling, Women’s Refuge, Rape Crisis, etc, would be reluctant to engage those organisations and would “walk away”. Ms Pilot was concerned that passing personal, identifiable data to MSD would force NGOs to violate Privacy Laws.

Ms Pilot said that the Privacy Commissioner was also concerned at MSD’s intentions to obtain such data, and was investigating. She said the Commissioner would most likely report on the issue by the end of this month.

On 3 March, Radio NZ reported; grave concerns held by at least one NGO, Women’s Refuge;

Women’s Refuge chief executive Ang Jury said agencies would have to abide by the contract change if they wanted to keep their funding.

“If agencies choose not to share this information they won’t be contracting with the ministry. That’s pretty much where it sits.”

Dr Jury said it was not an ideal situation for the refuge but they were not in a position to say no.

“This is not something that we would happily go out and say, ‘yes, this is exactly what we want to do’.

“If it is going to happen, our job now is to make sure we get the sort of safeguards built around that information that we need to keep our women and children safe,” she said.

At least one privacy lawyer doubted the legality of MSD’s demands;

Privacy lawyer Kathryn Dalziel said the Ministry of Social Development (MSD) looked to be on shaky ground.

“This is a potential breach of privacy because they don’t appear to have identified, anywhere, the purposes for which they are collecting that information.

“There doesn’t seem to be any transparency around it … I also don’t think it’s fair,” she said.

“Principle 2 of the Privacy Act says that if you want to collect information from third party, you have to have a good reason.

“You also have to have … lawful and reasonable purposes for collecting that information in the first place. Now, none of that has been done.”

However, what really raised fears was Ministry of Social Development deputy chief executive, Murray Edridge’s responses to Kathryn Ryan’s  questions. His answers not only failed to reassure, but raised serious concerns as to MSD’s intentions regarding the storage and end-use of personalised, identifiable data.

>Ministry responds to privacy concerns – 3 March<

Edridge parroted the usual monetarist rhetoric of  “the New Zealand public demands that government spend it’s money well”.

When Ms Ryan  put it to Edridge that MSD was attempting to track NGO service-users, he denied it;

“ No we’re not tracking them. What we’re doing is we’re saying to providers, look, for us to understand the effectiveness of services, to understand where the resources are best invested, where we will decide between priorities in terms of investment we need to understand who the people are and what value they get from the services. For some time we’d had concern that investment’s been made in social services where they’re not the most effective mechanism for the people that require them, and this is part of the mechanism by which we understand the clientele better and we understand how we can serve them better and invest in services that are going to support them.”

When Ms Ryan put it to Edridge that anonymised data would work just as well, Edridge kept referring back to needing to know “who these people are“.

Moments later, Edridge contradicted himself by admitting “we know who the clients are, we know all about them“. If that wasn’t creepy enough, Ms Ryan then asked Edridge why MSD demanded further information about NGO service-users. She asked why MSD needed to know who was approaching  (for example) Women’s Refuge for assistance..

Edridge’s response was further contradictory and throughout the twelve minute interview he could provide no satisfactory answer why MSD was requiring personalised data from NGOs. At one point he attempted to cloud the issue by stating that MSD required “demographic information”.

Ms Ryan dismissed that claim by remind Edridge that MSD was seeking names, addresses, ethnicities, children’s names and that was not simply “demographic information”.

When Ms Ryan suggested that NGO service-users might not want their details passed on to MSD or other ministeries, Edridge could only respond,

“ Well, we need to know where to get the money in the right place.”

Four days later, Rape Crisis draw a line in the sand and announced it would  flat out decline to sign contracts with MSD  in return for  passing private information about service-users in exchange for on-going funding.

>Rape Crisis reject “data-for-funding” contracts – 7 March<

By 16 March, pressure on MSD and Minister Tolley was such that the ministry caved, and was forced to step back from demanding personalised data from some NGOs dealing with sexual violence.

>Temporary reprieve over ‘private data for funding’ contracts – 16 March<

The “reprieve”, however, was only temporary, and would last for only one year until MSD “works out how to securely collect and store their clients’ private data”. It also did not apply to all NGOs.

The Creep of Big Brother and the Daddy State

Up till this point, data-collection has centered on those who come in contact with the Justice system; WINZ beneficiaries; and Housing NZ tenants. These are generally New Zealanders who are usually the most deprived and vulnerable socially and financially, and rely on State assistance to survive.

A person seeking help from WINZ and Housing NZ is forced to supply both ministeries their private data. To refuse means no help. Next stop; the street;

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A citizen in contact with the Justice system has even less option to refuse to provide private data.

MSD’s demand for personalised data from NGO service-users marks a new stage in National’s slow advancement in building a data-base on every person in the country.

NGO service users may not necessarily be unemployed beneficiaries or live in state houses or have broken the law in some way – but their details will still be required to be collected and supplied to the Ministry of Social Development.

The ministry has assumed the de facto role of collecting and storing data on New Zealanders who – up till this point – may never have come into contact with any governmental organisation such as Housing NZ, WINZ, or Police.

The implications of this are staggering.

The net to scoop up data on as many citizens as possible, has just widened considerably.

If you think you – the reader – may never need the services of Women’s Refuge or Rape Crisis, consider for a moment that there are thousands  of NGOs operating in this country and hundreds that are funded by the State.

Victim Support is just one state-funded NGO;

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So if you’ve just become a victim of a crime; Victim Support enters your life;  the State now has your personal data on file;

  • Client: Name, address, gender, date of birth, primary ethnicity, Iwi.
  • Dependents: Name, date of birth, relationship to client.
  • Service Level: Information Programme/service name, start date and end date.”

Middle-class New Zealanders who may never have had cause to have personal data collected on them may soon be on file with various ministeries.  With data-sharing, personal information from MSD can end up throughout other ministeries. Or on the desks of ministers;

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Never mind “Nanny State” – this is the muscular arm of Daddy State flexing it’s strength to reach out to grab more and more of our private information.

And it won’t end with this.

Not until we say “Enough is enough. No more“.

Back to Showers

Remember this?

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In the lead-up to the 2008 general election, National attacked the then-Labour Government for  “Nanny Statism”.

Following on from a disastrous drought in 2007 that cost the country’s economy  over $2.8 billion (in 2008/09 dollars), the then-Labour government sought out ways and means to  conserve water. The alternative was the possibility of further water-shortages or costly storage and irrigation systems. Labour opted for conservation. This included measures to save water in residential areas.

It could be  suggested that water-saving shower heads and energy-efficient light-bulbs are the least of our concerns.  National has surpassed anything that Labour envisaged, as this government  reaches further and further into our private lives.

If there is one thing that history has taught us – governments that spy on their own people do not trust their people, and are fearful of them.

National must be very frightened of us.

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References

NZ Legislation: Search and Surveillance Act 2012

NZ Herald: New police search and surveillance law in force

Beehive: Search and Surveillance Bill becomes law

Radio NZ: Collins defends giving details to blogger

NZ Legislation: Government Communications Security Bureau and Related Legislation Amendment Bill

Beehive: John Key – PM releases report into GCSB compliance

Legislation.govt.nz:  Government Communications Security Bureau Act 2003

NZ Herald:  Spying on NZ: More power to watch us

Dominion Post:  Spy bungles start to entangle PM

Fairfax media: Kiwis do care, prime minister

Parliament: Government Communications Security Bureau Amendment Bill

Parliament: Telecommunications (Interception Capability and Security) Bill

Fairfax: Spying bill passes into law

Parliament: Telecommunications (Interception Capability and Security) Bill — Third Reading

Parliament: Countering Terrorist Fighters Legislation Bill

NZ Herald: Foreign fighters bill passes 94 – 27

Fairfax media: Labour backs anti-terror laws, despite attacking it

IRD: Information sharing with New Zealand Police

IRD: Cross-government Information-sharing to Identify, Stop or Disrupt Serious Crime

MacNicol & Co: Tax News – IRD to share information with police

NZ Legislation: Terrorism Suppression Act 2002

Wikipedia: Terrorism Suppression Act 2002

Radio NZ: Government demands private data from NGOs

NZ Family Violence Clearinghouse: Relationships Aotearoa to close; funding models and issues in spotlight

Radio NZ: Govt on shaky ground over data-for-funding contracts, lawyers say

Radio NZ: Rape Crisis reject “data-for-funding” contracts

Radio NZ: Temporary reprieve over ‘private data for funding’ contracts

Comvoices: HomePage

Victim Support: Where does your funding come from?

NZ Family Violence Clearinghouse: MSD to require individual client level data from community agencies

NZ Herald: Bennett gets tough with outspoken solo mums

Dominion Post: Minister defends releasing private details

Fairfax media: Bennett won’t rule out releasing beneficiary details

Scoop: Showers latest target of Labour’s nanny state

NIWA: 2007 – much drier than average in many places

Beehive: Drought costs NZ $2.8 billion

Additional

Fairfax media: UN privacy expert slams government stance on privacy and ‘big data’

Other Blogs

The Standard: Social investment meets the surveillance state

Previous related blogposts

OIA Request points to beneficiary beat-up by Minister Chester Borrows

Audrey Young, Two Bains, old cars, and… cocoa?!?!

National Party president complains of covert filming – oh the rich irony!

An Open Message to the GCSB, SIS, NSA, and Uncle Tom Cobbly

Dear Leader, GCSB, and Kiwis in Wonderland

One Dunedinite’s response to the passing of the GCSB Bill

The GCSB Act – Tracy Watkins gets it right

The GCSB Act – some history

The GCSB – when plain english simply won’t do

The GCSB law – vague or crystal clear?

The Mendacities of Mr Key #1: The GCSB Bill

Campbell Live on the GCSB – latest revelations – TV3 – 20 May 2014

The real reason for the GCSB Bill

Letter to the Editor: John Campbell expose on Key and GCSB

A letter to the Dominion Post on the GCSB

Big Bro’ is Watching You!

The GCSB law – Oh FFS!!!

Dear Michael Cullen: the GCSB is not International Rescue!

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 20 March 2017.

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