Tuesday, February 10, 2009
SIS - saving us from ourselves
The SIS has been getting some uncomfortable attention recently. Late last year saw the exposure of informant Rob Gilchrist, who had been spying on various activists groups - including targeting my own office when I was an MP. While he was run by the Police Special Investigations Group, it would be surprising if the SIS were not recipients of information gathered by him, and some suspicion fell on them at the time.
(Actually, it wouldn't be that surprising if they saw nothing from it. The various branches of the US 'intelligence' services and law enforcement are renown for their infighting and sabotage of one another)
More recently attention has been on the files kept by the SIS on Green MP Keith Locke since the age of 11. A number of people have expressed outrage about surveillance of a sitting MP (although unsurprisingly not Kiwiblog and friends).
It is true that SIS surveillance of an MP both undermines parliamentary democracy and cuts across his work as foreign affairs spokesperson for the Greens. It is especially bad in that 55 years of files have turned up no evidence of illegal activity or anything other than a strong social conscience and a determination to do something to make the world a better place.
In my mind it highlights a fundamental polarity. Some people see it as totally legitimate for the SIS to spy on people who disagree with the government. They see the order of things as basically good, and anyone wanting to change things in any fundamental way as subversive and dangerous. Of course they are right - such people are threatening to the vested interests that benefit from the status quo.
Others see it as illegitimate for the 'intelligence' machinery to target people simply because they are active in making change. As long as they aren't plotting armed insurrection, basically, they should be left alone to go about their democratic business. This view sees dissent as the lifeblood of democracy, not its nemesis.
Part of the problem seems to be the limited world-view of many in the intelligence community. Judging by the simplistic and naive analysis of information that appears standard (though its hard to really tell because access to such analysis is obviously limited) any radical thinking does appear subversive rather simply critical.
Of course it really boils down to whether you think the state is there (or should be) to preserve the status quo on behalf of the powerful and wealthy, or there to represent the interests of the people. I don't think we can get past the fact that MPs, cops, judges etc currently swear allegience to the Queen. They are not allowed to swear either to the people of New Zealand, or to our most important constitutional document Te Tiriti o Waitangi. As one who will be happy to see the Crown of England melt in the fire, I guess I'd better see what the SIS is keeping on me!