Hard News by Russell Brown


The GCSB and the consequences of mass surveillance

Fewer whistleblowers, more corruption, less stability.

That's the assessment of longtime Pacific journalist Jason Brown of the impact of the revelation that the GCSB has been conducting "full take" collection of communications in Samoa, Fiji, Solomon Islands and other Pacific nations since 2009.

"It creates fear. We live in small communities," he said on Media Take last night. "The advent of email was actually, we thought, a bit of a boon in that we could communicate within our communities without actually having to meet anyone ... that small-town thing of everyone knowing what you're doing and people being very sensitive to being critical of the government. So we thought email was great.

"Now that the knowledge is out there, the number of whistleblowers, people who leak us information, is probably going to drop a bit, if it hasn't already, because they know that they're being watched ...

"More corruption is an inevitable result. It's difficult enough getting stories in the Pacfiic when you're working in these small communities. And everyone's rightfully concerned for their jobs. If there's more corruption there's less stability. And that's even going to have a long-term effect on New Zealand."

He also pointed out that there's limited scope for journalists working in the Pacific to protect their communications – it's not a technically sophisticated environment. The New Zealand Herald's David Fisher confirmed in the same discussion that he generally operates on the assumption that he is under surveillance and takes "reasonably straightforward" precautions as a result.

So why should we care?

"There's a very fundamental issue for me that sits behind this," said Fisher. "And it's about being told about it, and about having the opportunity to be involved with the debate about it. If you go on the GCSB website and look at what they say their work is, it's about protecting New Zealand from foreign threats, and about the danger that's posed from this increasingly complex world.

"If you hear the Prime Minister talk about it, he talks about the threat from orgaisations like IS or other forms of Islamic terror. The examples we've seen so far aren't anything of that nature. We had a big debate as a country through 2013 about the new spy laws that were being put in place ... how do you as a society have a debate about these things if we're not being informed about them?"

You can see an extended version of last night's Media Take discussion with Jason Brown and the New Zealand Herald's David Fisher here on the Maori Television website.

And you can also see the show as broadcast, which features a fiery debate between Dr Leonie Pihama and Northland artist Lester Hall on the topic of cultural appropriation.

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