The world’s gone mad! I hear that a lot. Now I’m starting to believe it.
In our own parliament there are a series of laws being introduced (under urgency) which are not able to be properly scrutinised because the advice from officials about their impact is apparently too sensitive for us mere mortals to behold. The long term ramifications of this are not good for our rights as citizens; our privacy and our ability to trust our government.
Andrew Geddis has written eloquently about this, in particular with regard to a law passed at the weekend which laid out the (deeply inadequate) terms upon which carers could be paid to care for severely disabled family members. The basis of the legislation is highly questionable but the ability to debate that and any legal risks has been curtailed by the removal (or redaction) of this important official advice from the publicly released Regulatory Impact Statement (or RIS). Keith Ng at Public Address said much the same thing only in less words and in more colourful language.
There has been a growing and disturbing pattern emerging in this government to blatantly redact important information from publicly available documents. The removal of important information from a Regulatory Impact Statement reaches new heights however as it effectively nobbles the Opposition members of parliament in being able to debate and vote on the law in our parliament.
The Disability Bill was the third Bill introduced into the House within a week which removed large tracts of critical information and advice from the Regulatory Impact Statement. I say “critical information and advice”, but we can only assume it was important and critical because we simply don’t know, as it has been removed from the public eye.
The passing of these laws are therefore unable to occur with the full knowledge of their impact on our supposedly democratic and open society.
The first was a Bill which allows the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) to assist the SIS, Police and Defence Force to spy on New Zealand citizens and residents, as long as it has the approval of the Prime Minister of the day. Its Regulatory Impact Statement doesn’t even pretend to contain any real analysis of the risks for human rights, free speech and individual privacy. It boldly says there has been no consultation with the public. The hearings on this bill are very short and will be heard by a special select committee of party leaders. The likelihood is remote of all party leaders being available to hear submissions and then pay the required attention to ensure good law-making about such an important and controversial matter in such a short time.
The second (which is linked to the first) is the Telecommunications (Interception Capability and Security) Bill which allow the GCSB and the Government extraordinary powers to intervene in a Telco network; from how it is designed, to how it operates in NZ. Should you be charged, then some evidence against you may be too secret (for you) to even hear. This Bill has two Regulatory Impact Statements: here and here. Both are heavily redacted.
In particular, look at page 9 of the New Framework for network security which sets out the risks of the legislation: Unfortunately, the public is not allowed to know what most of those risks are because they are withheld. The period during which the public can provide submissions has been shortened from six weeks to five. We are now in week two. I urge everyone with an interest in our telecommunications frameworks and in robust democracy to submit.
It’s stranger than fiction. And immensely disturbing for our so-called Open Nation. Consider this:
In Franz Kafka’s The Trial; a man is arrested and prosecuted by a remote, inaccessible authority, with the nature of his crime revealed to neither him nor the reader.
His guilt is assumed, the bureaucracy running it (the remote inaccessible authority) is vast with many levels, and everything is secret, from the charge, to the rules of the court, to the authority behind the courts – even the identity of the judges at the higher levels.
Under the passing of these two laws, this could be our new reality. How did we get to this place? And what are we going to do about it?