Effective and credible external oversight of the intelligence agencies is crucial for assuring the New Zealand public that those agencies’ powers are being used in accordance with the law and with respect for New Zealanders’ right to privacy.

There is an inherent tension, however, between the secrecy required for effective intelligence operations (whereby agencies around the world are tasked by their respective, democratically-elected governments with gaining insights that would not otherwise be available), and legitimate public expectations of government agencies’ transparency. The goal is to balance these two considerations in a way that provides appropriate levels of security and public assurance.

The GCSB is subject to robust oversight, some of which is unique to the intelligence community. These oversight mechanisms were enhanced by legislative amendments in 2013.

Intelligence and Security Committee

The Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) is a statutory (as distinct from a select) committee of Parliamentarians that has been created to discharge those functions currently carried out in relation to other government departments by select committees. It is the parliamentary oversight mechanism for the intelligence agencies, and examines issues of efficacy and efficiency, budgetary matters, and policy settings.

The ISC is made up of the Prime Minister, two members of Parliament nominated by the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition, and one member nominated by the Leader of the Opposition. The Prime Minister chairs the ISC.

The 2013 amendments to the Intelligence and Security Committee Act 1996 improved the ISC’s ability to provide effective oversight of the intelligence agencies, primarily by increasing the opportunities for demonstrable accountability. The ISC now conducts an annual financial review of the intelligence agencies in public. The first such review was held in December 2013. The amendments to the ISC Act also require periodic reviews of New Zealand’s intelligence and security agencies, the legislation governing them and their oversight legislation, with the first review due to commence in 2015.

More detail concerning the ISC may be found in the Intelligence and Security Committee Act 1996 (external link) .

Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security

Since 1996 both the GCSB and the New Zealand Security Intelligence Service (NZSIS) have been subject to further oversight by the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security (IGIS). The 2013 amendments to the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security Act strengthened the office of the IGIS, increasing the resources of the office to enable a greater range of activities to be carried out, expanding the IGIS’s statutory work programme and enhancing the corresponding reporting requirements.

The IGIS and a Deputy IGIS are appointed by the Governor-General on the recommendation of the Prime Minister following consultation with the Intelligence and Security Committee.

The principal role of the IGIS is to assist the Minister responsible for the intelligence agencies in the oversight and review of those agencies, and in particular:

  • to assist the Minister in ensuring that the activities of those agencies comply with the law; and
  • to ensure that complaints relating to that intelligence and security agency are independently investigated.

With these objectives in mind, the IGIS has a broad mandate and an extensive list of functions – found in section 11 of the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security Act. In particular, the IGIS may inquire into any matter, no matter how operationally sensitive (including any matter that relates to intelligence collection and production methods or sources of information), to the extent strictly necessary for the performance of his or her functions.

The IGIS reports annually and has conducted a number of investigations at the request of the Prime Minister. These reports are available through the National Library of New Zealand, Wellington.

More detail concerning the IGIS may be found in the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security Act 1996 (external link)  and on the IGIS website (external link) .