Thursday, January 17, 2013

Our military is spying on us

Last year, as a result of the Kim Dotcom fiasco, we learned that the police were apparently using our spy agencies to do an end-run around legal restrictions on police search and surveillance. Now it turns out they're also using the military to do this work:

Air force planes kitted out with high-tech military equipment are being used to help investigate crimes.


A Royal New Zealand Air Force publication revealed one of the aircraft had been kitted out with full motion video gear to assist with the Rugby World Cup - although it was never used.

The Herald sought further details of how the plane was used in domestic policing operations. The air force refused to supply details, saying it could hamper efforts to detect, investigate and prevent offences. Details could also affect the ability of people facing charges to receive a fair trial.

Defence chief Lieutenant General Rhys Jones said the requesting agencies were responsible for ensuring surveillance warrants were obtained and that it was within the law. He said the NZ Defence Force was not covered by the legal definition of "law enforcement agency" under laws which controlled powers of search and surveillance but was "mindful of the need for compliance" with the law when helping others.


Police headquarters refused to reveal details, saying operational support from the military was a long-standing arrangement. A spokesman said: "Such requests are made on a case-by-case basis and are subject to approval at senior level by both police and NZDF, and must comply with all legislative requirements."

This is deeply disturbing. The primary purpose of NZDF is supposed to be the external defence of New Zealand. While we expect them to provide support for other government agencies - something they call "Multi-agency operations and tasks (MAO&T)" - this is for things like fisheries patrols, search and rescue, and disaster relief (there is a good discussion of this in their Budget appropriation here [PDF; p. 15]). Conducting surveillance on the part of the police is no part of this. When debating the new Search and Surveillance Act, MPs never once referred to the prospect of these powers being exercised by the military (Hansard here) - it is well outside the role we expect them to perform. The fact they are doing this under a cloak of total secrecy makes it even worse.

This is an abuse of power by the police and military, and it needs to be stopped. There is no role for the military in law enforcement. If they think there is, then our politicians need to haul them into line - either legally, or by cutting the capabilities they are clearly abusing.