A bad week for left activist paranoia

Army to gain new powers over protesters; GCSB spies on New Zealanders; new single government data hub planned... Is Aotearoa en route to Orwell's 1984?

I’ve made a lifelong habit of trying to stay out of the discourse on spying and security issues.

Since my earliest involvement in radical left activity in the late 1960s, I’ve been put off by those amongst us who seem to spend more energy on police and security issues than focusing on our collective kaupapa and actions.

Not that there isn’t a place for expert analysis.  I’ve always been grateful to people  like Barry Wilson, Nicky Hager, Murray Horton and Keith Locke – and others – for undertaking the research, keeping a close eye on what the bastards are up to and doing something about it on a regular basis.

However, I think it’s a specialty. For the majority of us to spend our precious activist time in a paranoid whirl can be personally, organisationally and politically destructive.

Although, I hasten to add, there are times when paranoia is totally justified. You only have to look at the public record in relation to the state’s actions around the Urewera raids and arrests, or the Rob Gilchrist infiltration saga, to get a glimpse of the secret and not-so-secret surveillance state in action.

Any radical left activist organisation which doesn’t take into account the potential – and actuality – of  state surveillance in various forms isn’t doing its job properly.  But on the whole, I think we just need to be aware of the possibilities, stay calm, and take appropriate action when needed.

However, developments over the past week are starting to shatter any sense of composure on my part.

First we learn that the Government is amending the Crown Minerals Bill so that the army can arrest protesters outside the 12-mile limit. Good on Sir Geoffrey Palmer and all the other individuals and groups who have already made a public stand on this one. Extending the powers of the military in relation to peaceful protest should ring alarm bells in the minds of anyone who knows their history – and who would like our country to retain our traditional democratic right to protest.

Then the Kitteridge report on the GCSB came out. Despite its founding legislation specifying that New Zealanders were not to be spied upon, it appears 56 illegal operations involving 88 citizens and residents have taken place since 2003. Adding fuel to the flames, John Key almost immediately announced his intention to introduce legislation to extend the GCSB’s powers, leading to what Gordon Campbell calls “a virtual merger of the SIS and the GCSB”.

Then this morning what do I hear but the dulcet tones of RNZ’s 6 am news telling us all that the Government is starting work on a plan to put all information on individuals held by state agencies into ‘one big hub’.

I now have a vision of the Whanganui computer on steroids. Back in the day, there was plenty of activist paranoia when police and various other state justice agencies set up one big computer to hold all their information about us in one place.

A front line activist  from the ‘81 anti-tour mobilisation in Auckland, Neil Roberts, even laid his life on the line, dying in a one-man protest against the computer (may you rest in peace, friend).

As for the new ‘data hub’, Treasury says the data will be anonymised, and access limited to those authorised. But this is of no comfort at a number of levels. Do I really want the police, SIS – and soon the GCSB (legally) – to be able to easily and quickly gather every record on me created by government departments, DHBs or SOEs – and for, say, a local Work and Income staffer to do the same thing in reverse?

Not to mention that leaks and misuse of Government databases seem to be growing by the day. Just this morning someone else has come forward talking about more ‘significant holes’ in the Ministry of Justice website.

Put all this together and the picture is deeply scary.

Yesterday the four of us who were at the top of Mana’s list in the 2011 election put out a media statement calling on the Government to release the names of all individuals affected by the GCSB’s illegal actions, and apologise forthwith.

As I’ve said elsewhere, the fact that we don’t know who the affected individuals are simply feeds the paranoia of everyone who thinks they may be one of them.

There are times when a good dose of Manic Street Preachers doesn’t go astray – “If you tolerate this your children will be next”. 

Do we really want to be the generation which allows our rulers to cement in George Orwell’s 1984, Aotearoa-style?