This Kiwi's roaming internet connection is no longer safe. Flickr
According to the Global Peace Index, after Iceland, New Zealand is the safest place to live in the world. Despite boasting liberal gun rights that are actually quite similar to those in the United States, gun violence is far lower, reaching approximately 1.45 gun-related deaths per 100,000 citizens per year. In the US, gun-related suicides alone account for 3.6 per 100,000.
So perhaps it's in pursuit of maintaining such high safety standards that the government of New Zealand decided to pass a law drastically expanding its surveillance state. By a 61 to 59 vote, the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) just signed a bill that will allow the government to legally spy on its own citizens. Prime Minister John Key commented that after an emotional debate, people were left feeling "agitated and alarmed."
What could have predicated the passing of such a law, one that Peters tried to assure would "not, and never will be, about wholesale spying on New Zealanders"? Leading up to the early 2012 arrest of Kim Dotcom in Auckland (in kahoots with the US), no such law authorized the type of spying the GCSB used to track him. Now, this law—passed by a narrow two-vote margin—will grant the bureau necessary access to do more or less of what General Keith Alexander would call "connecting the dots," which he recently claimed might have prevented 9/11.
Recently, Key appointed High Court judge Andrew McGechan as Inspector General of Intelligence and Security. At the time, Radio New Zealand suggested the move would likely bring "changes to the role in GCSB legislation before Parliament." Winston Peters, a politician and the founding leader of the New Zealand First party (they're moderates), commented that "changing the person will not improve oversight of intelligence agencies."
In referring to the new law, Peters said, "A lot of information is being denied to the public as to what's exactly going on. And the more information one gleans, the more one would have a cause for grave disquiet as to what has happened, what is happening and what may happen if this law is rammed through the way it is."
Although Google, Microsoft, and Facebook are actively enrolled in the mass data-collecting programs for the NSA, the companies voiced concern over implications of expanding such intelligence gathering in New Zealand. In a statement addressed to a committee reviewing the bill, Facebook said, "Blanket rules requiring data retention and accessibility are blunt tools, which have the potential to infringe on civil liberties and constrain economic growth." Kim Dotcom, who strongly opposes the bill put it more bluntly.
"This will be the birth of a surveillance state in New Zealand," he said.