The current controversy about the activities of the Government Security Communications Bureau (GCSB) is inescapably about privacy. As such I, like my colleague the Inspector-General of Security and Intelligence, want to outline my role.
There are three ways in which my office contributes to the oversight of the GCSB.
The first is by investigating complaints about access to and correction of personal information. Although the GCSB has been exempted by Parliament from most of the information privacy principles, people are entitled to request access to information held by the GCSB about them, and if they receive it, to request correction of that information. There are times when access will be denied, or the Bureau will refuse even to confirm or deny the existence of information. That has been provided for in the law since 1982.
In all cases where a request is refused, the person concerned is able to ask my office to investigate. We will independently verify if there is good reason to withhold some or all of the information, or advise the person that the original decision was properly made. There will be limits to what we can say about the need to withhold. This is the same with investigations involving the Police or Customs.
The second way I can ensure privacy values are represented within GCSB was added to the GCSB Act as part of the reforms last year. A new s.25A obliges the Director of the GCSB to formulate a policy on personal information. In doing so, he must consult with me, and with the Inspector-General of Security and Intelligence. We have both reviewed one or more iterations of that policy, and I am pleased with the progress being made.
The third development is that I have convened a meeting, which I hope to become regular, of the agencies responsible for overseeing security and intelligence agencies. That includes my office, the IGIS, the Chief Ombudsman, and the Auditor-General. Together we will be able to ensure that our efforts are as informed and coordinated as our respective legislative schemes permit.
I look forward to continuing to play a role in providing assurance to New Zealanders that the activities of our security and intelligence agencies are lawful and proportional.