Keeping an eye on folks

One spyIn the recent discussion about NSA, GCSB (New Zealand’s equivalent), and other high tech national spying organisations, we’ve heard much protestation from the ‘authorities’ that such spying is not carried out on national citizens, but only on foreigners.

I’ve always thought this was a weak argument. Somehow only foreigners can be bad guys – but why should that be? Particularly in the case of larger countries with diverse populations, where a tiny proportion of the population being nutters still means a lot of people.

In New Zealand this year we’ve heard a good deal of garbage about how awful it was that our GCSB had surveiled Kim Dotcom, because he had Kiwi residency status. If he had allegedly been doing anti-social things – and I’m not saying he was – the fact that he had recently become a Kiwi resident didn’t make those things any better.

Anyway, we know that domestic agencies such as the FBI, CIA, ASIO, MI5 and, in New Zealand, the SIS (Security Intelligence Service), are well aware their own nationals aren’t always lily-white. They’ve been spying on citizens forever and they don’t always bother to get approvals from impartial judges to do it.

Is this somehow more  acceptable because they’re less high-tech than GCSB and NSA (with its PRISM programme)? It’s pretty much one and the same as far as I am concerned. If society deems that surveillance is needed, why make distinctions based on the relative efficiency of spying tools and the organisations that use them?

As far as the ‘we don’t spy on our own citizens’ claim is concerned, how does this stand up if Country A wants to spy on its own citizens (but ‘can’t’) and simply asks friendly Country B to do it for them and pass on the results?

This is easy for agencies in the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand. They cooperate via the Five Eyes super-spy network.

And the Five Eyes sure as hell don’t bother about sign-off from impartial judges.

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