A controversial law to extend the spying powers of New Zealand’s foreign intelligence agency was passed by Parliament late Wednesday by a margin of just 61 votes to 59.
The legislation, which allows the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) to spy on citizens and residents, has drawn protests and widespread opposition, including from prominent New Zealanders, who fear the new powers lack adequate oversight and are open to abuse.
Prime Minister John Key, who has been accused of scaremongering in trying to promote the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) and Related Legislation Amendment Bill, told Parliament earlier Wednesday that if he disclosed all he knew about the threats to the country, it would cut dead some of the opposition to the bill.
Radio New Zealand reported that Key, who is also the minister responsible for the GCSB, told Parliament the country faced very real threats but he could not reveal them for security reasons.
He said the bill was good legislation and its provisions were necessary for national security.
“They’re needed right now, because there are threats against us right now. Others may play politics with this security and the lives of New Zealanders but I cannot, and will not, do so.”
But the now-former leader of the main opposition Labour Party David Shearer told the House that the bill did nothing to reassure New Zealanders their private lives were safe from prying eyes, and described it as “Mickey Mouse” ad hoc legislation.
Shearer told Parliament the government should have only passed the bill after a full and independent inquiry.
Critics have also claimed that the law would enable the GCSB to spy on New Zealand for foreign intelligence agencies.
The GCSB had been forbidden to spy on New Zealand citizens and residents, but the government decided to overturn the ban after the agency was caught illegally spying on the communications of German Internet mogul Kim Dotcom.
The founder of file-sharing site Megaupload, Dotcom had his Auckland home raided by police in January last year at the behest of United States law enforcement agencies that are seeking his extradition on Internet piracy, money-laundering and racketeering charges.
A subsequent government report found the GCSB might have illegally spied on more than 80 people.