1 August 2013
The New Zealand Herald’s Claire Trevett puts the current controversy regarding the GCSB Bill and access to journalists’ phone records into its proper perspective: “The bill is completely unrelated to the issue of … phone records. In fact, … the GCSB itself could not have obtained the information the Parliamentary Service released so blithely …”
So the real question becomes why were metadata, swipe access and phone records released so freely? Was it because they were formally requested (if so, by whom)? Was it inadvertent (a mighty big piece of inadvertence if it was)? Or was Parliamentary Service just trying to be helpful (if so, to whom)?
In my case, my metadata and mobile phone records were accessed without my approval. I declined access to the content of my emails, and assume that was honoured. I agreed to my landline and extension phone data, and swipe card records being released for a specified period of time but it is seems likely they were provided for a longer period.
Andrea Vance’s “Mad as Hell” column makes the passing observation that “you can glean a lot from matching numbers, time and date of published stories.” This is the real nub of the issue, insofar as the Henry inquiry, the DPMC, and the Parliamentary Service were concerned. But what is intriguing is how that links into Peters’ comments in the House on 30 May (not 5 June) about the phone records providing all the answers. Was that just inspired guess-work, or had there already been a tip-off, and if so, by whom, for what purpose?
The Privileges Committee will probably never get to the bottom of these machinations, but its investigation will be critical in establishing the rules of engagement to apply from here on.
For what it is worth, here is what I think. Members of Parliament and journalists should not be tracked around the Parliamentary complex, nor should their metadata, phone or photocopying logs be accessed without their prior approval. Even then, it should be for only the most specific of purposes and periods of time, relating to physical security or criminal investigations. And any such authority should approved by the Speaker before any data is released. Using such data for joining the dots inquiries that may or may not lead anywhere should not be permitted.
While all this has nothing to do with the GCSB Bill, the attention it is attracting might just be the thing to jolt the Parliament into becoming far more circumspect about the need to protecting the legitimate privacy of MPs and journalists.