Thursday, September 23, 2021

COVID Vaccine Passports: normalising surveillance

Whether we like it or not, it seems that ‘vaccine passports’ are set to become the norm. They are being introduced as a fait accompli by the NZ government and will be in use by the end of 2021.

Currently, most discussion about the passports (and even mandatory record-keeping) has focussed on the question of equity. Criticisms include that mandatory signing-in assumes the majority have android or i-phones and that the problem with the vaccine passport is unequal access to vaccination. This is true: there is a disparity of access to vaccines both within and between countries.

As it could be years, if ever, before access to vaccines are equitable, vaccine passports will ensure travel becomes even more privileged than it was before COVID. Planes will be full of privileged people from privileged countries travelling the world. And some countries will even open their borders to the privileged vaccinated tourist because it’s good for the economy, regardless of the vaccination status of their own population.

However, it is likely that the vaccine passport will not be limited to only international travel. Grant Robertson has said that there is a 'conversation underway' on the use of vaccine passports to access public places and businesses, an idea supported by many, especially those in the hospitality industry.

A vaccine passport becoming a domestic vaccine pass will mean not just dividing the world between privileged international travellers but also the country between privileged people. Domestic vaccine passports could become the key to access both work and social life and, as vaccination rates in this country are not equitable, we will see a new form of discrimination: discrimination based on vaccination status. Researcher Alapasita Teu has pointed out, "It is easy to see us creating a two-tiered society between the vaccinated and unvaccinated." Historically this has been true.

Yellow Fever Vaccination Certificates in the US are said to have helped create and maintain the southern US class system. Society was already sharply defined by race, income and free-status: there were whites, gens de couleur libre (free people of colour) and slaves. However, there were also sub-groups of people who did not have certificates. Only those white non-slaves with immunity certificates could get jobs, have bank loans, or get married and the value of a slave was based on their immunity status. The Vaccination Certificates saw the creation of more underclasses of excluded people. The same will happen here; vaccine passes will create further inequalities and discrimination in already oppressed and undervalued communities.

There are definitely ethical concerns around the use of vaccine passports. And there are also concerns about the practical aspects of the vaccine passport. There are a multitude of questions, including: Will the vaccine passport be limited to use only during the COVID pandemic? Will only vaccine status be stored on it? How will the meta-data be stored? Who will have access to the data? How can we stop it becoming a form of permanent bio-surveillance? 

But there is another deeper discussion about the vaccine passport that needs to be had and that concerns surveillance. This discussion is crucial. Vaccine passports are definitely one step too far on the slippery slope to the normalisation of state surveillance.

Over recent years there has been a huge paradigm shift in our expectation of privacy and surveillance. We have become inured to ubiquitous surveillance. We leave traceable electronic footprints everywhere: think of phone data and eftpos card transactions, or even loyalty cards. Data is the lifeblood and it feels like we give over more data buying a Ticketek ticket than we used to have to give for a passport. A lot of this change is also through (supposedly) freely informed choices: using Facebook, google location, fit-bits and TikTok, and even some activist groups ask people to pre-register attendance at a protest by using an on-line registration form. The introduction of a vaccine passport, though, is at a very different level.

Carrying a vaccine passport around for access to public places and businesses is changing the understandings of privacy. In the long-term it is ensuring more wide-spread acceptance of state surveillance as normal.

With mandatory signing-in and record-keeping already in place for all levels of COVID lockdown and with a vaccine passport on top of that, the government is creating an embedded surveillance system.

It is about now that many people start the mantra of ‘nothing to hide, nothing to fear’ as there is a common belief that mass surveillance is just a passive collection of material with the odd targeted focussing. But surveillance is much more than that. An 18th Century French Minister of Policing, Joseph Fouché, put it well when he said surveillance was needed to maintain control of the population. By watching and observing and noting what is happening in society, surveillance can ensure the ‘preservation of the political regime’ (read The Phantom Terror).

Carrying around a vaccine passport will enable more widespread surveillance, and the result is likely to be a chilling effect on civil liberties.

The COVID pandemic is an ‘extraordinary time’ but the introduction of a domestic vaccine passport is equally extraordinary. The decision to introduce vaccine passes cannot be narrowed down to the immediate choice between surviving COVID and ‘the return to normal’ in our daily lives versus the future long-term ramifications of normalising state surveillance. Practices and laws put in place during extraordinary times do cause dramatic changes in society.

Vaccine passports are complicated and dangerous, they cannot be introduced as a fait accompli.

Thursday, August 26, 2021

COVID Mandatory Scanning and Signing-in - A Game Changer

Scanning and signing-in is to become mandatory. The government has announced that seven days after this latest lockdown ends mandatory record keeping will be required at all alert levels for busy places and events’.

The fear of COVID is real and we do need to protect ourselves from the virus, but we also need to look at the costs and long-term effects of practices and procedures introduced to assist in controlling outbreaks of COVID.

Making scanning or signing-in mandatory is a major change in our social behaviour and will have long-term ramifications. Mandatory signing-in is definitely on the slippery slope to normalising state surveillance.

Thursday, June 24, 2021

Submissions on the Counter-Terrorism Legislation Bill

Friday 25 June is the last day to make submissions on the Counter-Terrorism Legislation Bill.

 The Bill is the government’s response to Recommendation 18 of the Royal Commission Terrorist Attack on Christchurch Mosques to “…Review all legislation related to the counter-terrorism effort…to ensure it is current and enables Public sector agencies to operate effectively, prioritising consideration of the creation of precursor terrorism offences in the Terrorism Suppression Act…”

To do this, the Bill amends three current Acts: the Terrorism Suppression Act 2002 (TSA), the Search and Surveillance Act 2012, and the Terrorism Suppression (Control Orders) Act 2019, and it:

A.    widens the definition of terrorism

B.    introduces three new offences -

       planning or preparing to carry out a terrorist act,

       providing or receiving combat and weapons training for terrorist purposes,

       international travel to or from or via NZ with intention for terrorist acts.

C.     widens the offence of financing terrorism to include providing material support

D.    extends Control Orders.

 All three Acts the Bill is amending are controversial. The TSA 2002 was criticised by many as a rushed through knee-jerk reaction to 9/11, eroding fundamental rights and freedoms. The Search and Surveillance Act removed the right to silence and the privilege against self-incrimination whilst also dramatically expanding search and surveillance powers. The Control Orders Act allowed secret courts and punishment and state intrusion into people’s lives. The Privacy Commissioner said Control Orders were “an affront to the principles of due process and the principles on which our criminal justice system are based.”

Thursday, May 21, 2020

The NZ COVID-19 Tracer App

Since Tuesday 19th May the New Zealand government’s official ‘NZ COVID-19 Tracer’ app has been available for download. This first iteration, though, is little more than the promised sign-up form Jacinda Ardern told us about in early April when she said, “it will help update our national health database with users' contact details.

Apart from ensuring our details are up-to-date, the other official benefit is that people get used to scanning themselves into premises.

Having available an electronic list of places visited will be a memory aid to assist us in case we test positive, but it will not do much to ‘protect your friends, whānau and community by enabling faster contact tracing’ as the download page states.

The Director of the Centre for Social Data Analytics, Dr Rhema Vaithianathan, tweeted on the night the app became available, “This makes no sense - how does it help moh [Ministry of Health] locate contacts that have visited the same place as the case? Am I missing something here??

She wasn’t. The app cannot help with locating people who were in the same premises that a person with a COVID-19 positive test visited. The only way to help with that is a register but under Lockdown Level 2 it is only hospitality places that must keep a register.

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Think Carefully About Any COVID-19 Tracing App

As one of the tools to fight COVID-19 the NZ government has promised that there will be a contact tracing app available by mid-May. The first iteration they have said, will be in the form of an on-line sign-up form, and could be out by 11th May.

But there has been minimal discussion about the pros and cons of COVID-19 apps. Rather, our fear of the virus and its effect on our world has meant that most people are unquestioningly accepting the necessity of using apps to keep the spread of the virus under control.

However, we need to break away from the fear factor and consider the long-term societal results of any COVID-19 apps. We need to consider possible consequences weighed up against any benefits. We need to not only question the short-term need for contact tracing but think of their long-term use and effect. We need to look at what we are being asked to give up.

Decisions made today about any tracing or tracking apps will have huge implications for our futures.

Sunday, May 3, 2020

COVID-19: Tracking and Tracing Apps in NZ

Desperate to stop the spread of COVID-19 and to get the economy going again, the NZ government announced at the end of lockdown level 4 that they will introduce a tracing app within two weeks. That means there will be some type of an app by 11 May (unless they change their mind). The first iteration they have said, will be to just register your contact details with the Ministry of Health.
Covid 19 coronavirus: NZ's own tracing app on way....NZ Herald, 27 April 2020
Little more is known about what the government is planning, so OASIS has gathered together an overview of some of the types of contact tracing and tracking apps that have come to light in the media.

The Aim of Contact Tracing

The aim of a contact tracing app is to be able to alert anyone who has been in contact with an infected person and warn them to isolate themselves. It is not a system that warns anyone of the presence of a person who is infected (as a recent article on Stuff claimed).

Friday, November 8, 2019

The Terrorism Suppression (Control Orders) Bill

The Terrorism Suppression (Control Orders) Bill will turn on its head the idea of ‘innocent until proven guilty’. The ramming of the Bill through parliament is yet another dog whistle to the mantra of terrorism. This time the terror is the fear of people coming from overseas who may have been involved in terrorist-related activities overseas. If terrorism related activity is suspected but there is not enough evidence to charge someone, the person could instead be subject to ‘Control Orders’.

Decisions about Control Orders could be reached and made in secret and without criminal level of guilt.

Control Orders will be extremely intrusive. People could have their day-to-day life curtailed or even be detained without any charge. Orders can ‘include limits on movement, communications with others, disclosing or receiving information, use of technology, buying or selling property, and engaging in specific activities in respect of their work, and recreation. They can further include requirements to report to the police regularly, submit to electronic monitoring, and to allow police to monitor/search their house, workplace, equipment, internet usage etc.(1)’ Control Orders could also last up to six years. It is worth noting that Control Orders could be a lot more invasive than any bail or parole conditions that the ‘justice system’ currently have at their disposal.

The Orders will be punishment without even the pretense of a trial.

Sunday, June 9, 2019

A Security Services & government Timeline

"Where were our intelligence agents when Ernie Abbott was murdered and the Rainbow Warrior blown up?" a speaker asked during the 2015 Security Intel Review by Michael Cullen and Patsy Reddy

A common concern also voiced at the time was that 'the GCSB was an outpost of the NSA and that its activities were linking us to America's wars'. The timeline below shows the validity of the concern. From RadioNZ 'Timeline: Security services, government and Muslim community before the Christchurch mosque attacks', the timeline highlights the anti-Arabic anti-Muslim focus of the security intelligence in this country.

Hand in hand with the timeline though, should be a timeline of the constant fear mongering anti-Muslim rhetoric that the government and its agencies led and participated in. Remember Rebecca Kiterridge and the government on the 'Jihadi Brides' and the November 2013 killing of a NZer in Yemen as a result of a US drone strike? Remember that we supply data used in drone strikes?

NZ is so intertwined with the Five Eyes that we blindly accept the US’s lead in who should be the 'enemy'. We need to be fearful of the Five-Eyes.

From RadioNZ: Before the Christchurch mosque attacks

  • 2002 - New Zealand enacts Terrorism Suppression Act. As of 2019, no one has ever been charged under Act
  • 2009-2019 - Not one specific mention in this period of the threat from white supremacists or right-wing nationalism in SIS or GCSB public documents
  • 2010-2017 - Figures from this period show 92 far-right attacks compared with 38 by jihadists* in US
  • July 2011 - 77 people killed in Norway by white supremacist shooter
  • 2012 on - Series of reviews of NZ security agencies after scandals including the Kim Dotcom spying
  • 2013 - National-led government abandons intrusive internet surveillance
  • 2013 on - Flood of refugees into Europe begins
  • 2014 - Suite of changes to national security set up including three new entities - a Strategic Risk and Resilience Panel, Security and Intelligence Board and Hazard Risk Board
  • 2015-2018 - Series of budget boosts for SIS and GCSB, including (in 2016) of $178m over 4 years
  • 2015 - Corrections Department sets up Countering Violent Extremism working group as part of government's counter-terrorism strategy
  • June 2015 - Nine killed by white supremacist at African-American church in South Carolina, United States **
  • December 2015 - New Zealand Muslims hold first community meetings to discuss counter-terrorism
  • June 2016 - Two men sentenced in Auckland over Islamic State material
  • October 2016 - Islamic Women's Council raises fears of far-right with SIS
  • 2017-18 - Security agencies set up new National Risk Unit and new National Security Workforce team, plus get a new specialist coordinator for counter-terrorism
  • 2017 - Research finds NZ Muslims believe government surveillance is excessive
  • 2017 to early 2018 - Muslim community in numerous meetings with government seeking but failing to get national wellbeing strategy
  • January 2017 - Six killed at mosque in Quebec, Canada
  • September 2017 - New Zealand's new Intelligence and Security Act 2017 comes into force
  • June 2018 - SIS begins to increase its efforts to assess far-right threat
  • November 2018 - Eleven killed by far right shooter in Pittsburgh, US
  • March 2019 - SIS and GCSB confirm they had no intelligence about the Christchurch terror accused
* Global Terrorism Database by the Washington Post
** This list of far-right attacks is far from exhaustive

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Peter Hughes Inquiry on Public Service Spying

‘This is not the way we do things in NZ’ State Services Commissioner Peter Hughes said as he described connections between government agencies and private agencies at the public release of the ‘Inquiry into the Use of External Security Consultants by Government Agencies’. Hughes sounded truly aggrieved. But the problem is that this is the NZ that many people know.

NZ has a long history of both state and private surveillance. For years a wide variety of groups and people have been spied upon, if not by state agencies themselves then by private investigators contracted by the public service. People surveilled include political and environmental activists, Māori and migrant communities, sexual abuse survivors and earthquake survivors - the list is long.

And one of the most infamous private investigation companies is Thompson and Clark (TCIL). TCIL’s main business appears to be working for a range of both state and private agencies. TCIL, started in 2003 by two former police officers: Gavin Clark and Nicholas Thompson, has been consistently employed by a range of both government and private agencies. (Thompson resigned from his directorship on 6 July 2018.)

Thursday, June 22, 2017

GCSB Director wanted to be useful - offered spies to Groser

"Mindful of the importance of being useful", GCSB Director Ian Fletcher offered the GCSB's services to Tim Groser.
When information about the GCSB spying on Tim Groser´s competitors for the job of Director of the WTO became public in 2015, the general assumption was that this was a case of the government leaning on a supposedly politically neutral agency to advance its agenda. 
Instead, what the IGIS´s report portraits is an agency taking it onto itself to do some extra-curricular spying in order to be in the good books with the government. 

The report by Inspector General Cheryl Gwyn is similar to Ian Fletcher´s memory - very specific in some details, but extremely vague in others. It states that it was Ian Fletcher´s idea to approach Tim Groser and offer him some extra spying to help him get the top job at the WTO. The report explains this by Fletcher being "mindful of the importance of being useful", i.e. he wanted to lick Groser´s boots, possibly because there was some public concern about his appointment (he had been appointed by personal recommendation from the PM, somewhat bypassing the usual selection process).