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 2017.
The Governor-General, on the recommendation of the Prime Minister, appoints a Chief Commissioner of Intelligence Warrants, and can appoint up to two additional Commissioners of Intelligence Warrants. Commissioners must have previously held office as a Judge of the High Court and are appointed for a term of three years.
Commissioners apply their significant judicial experience, ensuring robust scrutiny is applied to their areas of responsibilities.
The functions of the Commissioners include considering:
The current Commissioners of Intelligence Warrants are Chief Commissioner, Sir Bruce Robertson and Deputy Commissioner, Hon Justice Warwick Gendall.
The Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security (external link) (IGIS) is a statutory officer providing independent external oversight and review of the intelligence and security agencies.
The IGIS is responsible for reviewing issues of legality and propriety and provides an independent determination of complaints about GCSB and NZSIS’ conduct. The IGIS also reviews the agencies’ compliance procedures and systems.
The Intelligence and Security Act 2017 made the IGIS role more independent of the responsible Minister. The IGIS can inquire into operationally sensitive matters and has access to security records held by the intelligence and security agencies.
The Inspector-General conducts inquiries into matters, including individual complaints, report findings and recommendations to the Minister. Those reports, excluding matters of security concern, may be found in the Reports section of the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security's website. (external link)
In accordance with the requirements of the protected disclosures Act 2000, the Inspector-General is responsible for receiving protected disclosures by personnel of New Zealand intelligence and security agencies.
The current Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security is Cheryl Gwyn.
The Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) is the Parliamentary oversight committee for the intelligence agencies, and examines issues of efficacy and efficiency, budgetary matters and policy settings.
Membership of the ISC can be made up of between five and seven members. The Prime Minister is required to consult with the Leader of the Opposition before nominating members to the ISC, and requires the Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition to have regard to the proportional representation of political parties in the House of Representatives when nominating members.
The functions of the ISC are:
The Intelligence and Security Act 2017 requires that the Minister responsible for the intelligence and security agencies issue Ministerial Policy Statements in relation to the lawful activities of the agencies that set out any:
Each Ministerial Policy Statement sets out guiding principles that GCSB must apply when planning and carrying out these activities and identifies internal policies, procedures, consultation and training requirements in relation to each activity.
Ministerial Policy Statements are published on the New Zealand Intelligence Community website (external link) .
The GCSB is also subject to the oversight of other independent authorities such as the Auditor-General, Privacy Commissioner, Ombudsman and the judiciary.