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Spying in New Zealand

masonbee Privacy

Spying by business and government agencies was largely been under the radar in New Zealand until being exposed over the last few years with Thompson & Clark Investigations Limited (TCIL).

TCIL are a New Zealand registered company directed by Gavin Shane Clark and Nicolas Guy Thompson which, in their own words,

We ensure a seamless service in the protection of interests, operations and personnel through unique and highly specialised skills and resources. Our professional investigators and intelligence analysts have prior governmental experience and provide our clients with on-call tactical support, complemented by teams of specialists, experienced and proficient in all forms of security.

What is worrying about this company is that it has now been implicated in the surveillance of activists in New Zealand in the areas of the environment, peace, animal rights, and political campaigns. It has also been caught spying on earthquake insurance claimants.

Unfortunately, almost all of the information available about what TCIL does has come from the government departments who have hired them. We have little clue how often they are hired by private companies or what they have been hired for.

Suspicions have also been raised over the method they have gained contracts from government departments with an investigation currently being run in the Security Intelligence Services over inappropriate contacts and sharing of information with them. Even the police have been accused of obstructing investigations into threats made by one of the company directors.

This reveals a disturbing underbelly to New Zealand. Thus far the government and police have been caught out using the GCSB to spy on 86 citizens unlawfully. No charges were laid and instead law was changed to legalise the surveillance and the GCSB got millions of dollars in extra funding and a media damage control team. Now we have long term spying by government departments and private companies on community groups and political activists apparently helped in some cases by the Security Intelligence Services. Is this really how New Zealand thinks it’s taxes should be spent?

Since the election of the Labour/NZ First/Green government in 2017 there have been statements by the Prime Minister that the spying was ‘totally inappropriate’ and yet TCIL is still listed as a provider of,

  • Threat assessments
  • Risk assessments
  • Security planning
  • Security governance
  • Security assurance
  • Security design
  • Security awareness

on the government procurement website so those statements would seem to hold little water.

What this one company reveals is the corporate and government surveillance of New Zealand citizens over many years even when those citizens are acting legally and in many cases with the best of intentions for the country. It also hints at an old boys club consisting of the Police, Security Intelligence Services and TCIL helping each other out and obstructing investigation. An 'us and them' mentality where we are the targets.

Finally, it highlights some of the problems with New Zealand's proposed Privacy Bill where it states in Information privacy principle 2 that an agency doesn’t have to inform a person they are gathering information on if they think it would prejudice the purposes of the collection. In other words spying on the public is legal. But then the MP in charge of the bill is also the Minister for the GCSB and NZSIS so really, what did we expect?