• Security cameras are increasingly common around our cities.
  • Dr. Damien Rogers.

What the hack

How are security agencies keeping us safe?

How concerned should we be about threats to our security – from terrorists to cyber hacking? What are the boundaries for our intelligence agencies when it comes to protecting the safety of citizens while respecting personal privacy?

From combatting cyber terrorism to uncovering data theft – these days it is generally accepted that national security agencies are necessary for the preservation and protection of democratic institutions and the safety of the public. Two Massey University experts, Dr Rhys Ball and Dr Damien Rogers, share their different perspectives on New Zealand’s security and intelligence issues in a June public lecture in the Our Changing World series at the Albany campus. They explore the opportunities and challenges confronting those responsible for managing New Zealand’s intelligence and surveillance efforts in today’s evolving security landscape.

Damien and Rhys both lecture in the Centre for Defence and Security Studies at Massey’s Auckland campus in Albany, drawing on their academic research as well as work experiences across various government security, defence and intelligence-related agencies.

Damien says the credibility and reputation of the intelligence services has been damaged in recent years, and agencies need to restore public trust in their organisations after incidents such as the 2012 raid – and subsequent fallout – on German internet entrepreneur Kim Dotcom.

Extensive powers under the Intelligence and Security Act 2017 for agencies to access personal information from a wide range of public sector, financial and health databases, as well an increased move to target minority groups for surveillance, are among new concerns he will discuss. He points out that under the new Act, security and intelligence agencies have a broader brief, which now exists not just to protect New Zealand’s national security but extends to include our international relations and economic wellbeing.

Damien will also examine former Prime Minister John Key’s legacy in shaping a new era of heightened surveillance measures in New Zealand, with the rationale of threats from Middle East terror organisation Islamic State (IS) as the primary justification, as well as what he sees is a new focus on surveillance of domestic, rather than overseas targets.

Rhys brings an alternative perspective and says the number one goal of New Zealand’s security and intelligence service is “to be ahead of the threats”. The lack of terror incidents or assassinations to date in this country is a measure of success in this regard, he says. But emerging threats, especially in the realm of cyber-espionage and hacking, present new challenges. And more and more public institutions and organisations – from police and customs to health, banking, insurance and agricultural sector organisations – are seeking advice on strategic intelligence advice in an era of complex data management systems and an awareness of cyber threats, he says.

He says there are an estimated 30 to 40 people currently on a key watch list in New Zealand deemed to be potential security threats. But he feels there is a historical tendency in New Zealand to “overdramatise” public fears about mass surveillance, and that agencies are complaint with legislation that limits their powers to respond to threats. The need to balance intelligence gathering, surveillance methods and access to personal information with protecting individuals’ rights to privacy to maintain an open, democratic society is crucial, says Rhys. 

The speakers

Dr Damien Rogers is senior lecturer at the Centre for Defence and Security Studies, at Massey University’s Albany campus, where he teaches papers on Contemporary International Conflict, Security and the Law, and the Law of Armed Conflict. Before entering academia, he spent nearly a decade working in New Zealand’s intelligence community, including at the Government Communications Security Bureau, Ministry of Defence, New Zealand Defence Force, and the Border Security Group of Immigration New Zealand.

Dr Rhys Ball is a lecturer at Massey University’s Centre for Defence and Security Studies, based at the Albany campus. He is a former intelligence officer with over 10 years’ experience working in intelligence and security organisations, both in New Zealand and overseas.  Rhys completed his Master’s degree in Strategic Studies from Victoria University, and his 2009 doctoral thesis examined New Zealand Special Forces operations during the Vietnam War.  He has lived and worked in Wellington, London, Washington, Canberra and more recently, Dar es Salaam (Tanzania), before joining Massey in 2013.

Watching over you: surveillance and security in New Zealand

Thursday 28 June 2018 , 6.30pm