Wednesday, October 26, 2016

A good start

Kenya has commuted the sentences of everyone awaiting execution to life imprisonment:

Kenya's President has commuted the sentences of all the country's death row inmates to life imprisonment.

Thousands of prisoners condemned to death have been spared their lives although Kenya very rarely carries the sentences out - the last execution taking place in 1987.

At the stroke of a pen, President Uhuru Kenyatta commuted the sentences of 2,655 male and 92 female death row inmates.

This is obviously a good start in the fight against the death penalty, and reflects the government's opposition to it. But capital punishment is still on the books in Kenya. It should be repealed.

Community agencies should not be forced to spy for the government

Last week, we learned that the Ministry of Social Development was imposing new contracts on community agencies such as women's refuge, requiring them to hand over personal information on their clients including names, addresses and dates of birth and information about the service they receive. The purpose of this was for "social investment". Over on The Hand Mirror, LudditeJourno points out what that actually means:

If you doubt this, think about whether you'd be ok with the STI tests you're having being linked to your name in a government database. The same database which has your tax details, benefit details, student loan, car ownership history - hell, there's no limit to what the Integrated Data Infrastructure might grow to include. Let's be honest, there's been next to no public conversation about the developing surveillance system this government has created, and what's appropriate to link and why.

But think again, about accessing services. Let's say you've got a gambling problem, and your relationship and home are both at risk if you can't change. But if you go ask for help, that will be linked to all your other personal information. Are you ready for that, or should you wait a little longer?

Or you've got an eating disorder and it's quietly killing you, but if you ask for help and it's loaded onto your system, will it mean you can't apply for that job you want in government?

And that's without getting into the horrors of the police potentially being able to access it (because police officers are abusers too).

What "social investment" means is mass data surveillance. And what it means in this particular case is that vulnerable people can no longer trust these services. Which directly undermines their ability to do the job they're contracted to do and help those in need. And where the services involved are rape crisis centres, women's refuges, and suicide prevention helplines, that will literally cost lives.

But MSD probably sees that as a feature, not a bug. After all, if people are deterred from using social services by the prospect of future data-matching, it costs less money. And that apparently is all MSD cares about now.

This is an appalling decision from MSD and it needs to be reversed - before anyone dies as a result.

The police admit their abuse of power

The police have admitted that they abused their road-safety powers to collect intelligence on people democratically organising to change the law against physician-asisted suicide. But in doing so, they expose a fundamental problem with their whole operation:

But now, after the story was broken by Stuff, Inspector Chris Bensemann supplied a written statement confirming the checkpoint was to "identify people attending an Exit International meeting in Lower Hutt".

He said police had a duty of care and a "responsibility to the community to investigate any situation where we have reasonable grounds to suspect that persons are being assisted in the commission of suicide".

"Police are responsible for enforcing New Zealand's laws, and currently suicide or encouraging/helping someone to commit suicide - is illegal in New Zealand."

He confirmed the operation was conducted via a breath-testing checkpoint near the location of the meeting.

Spot the problem? Suicide is not a crime in New Zealand, and hasn't been for over a century. And its drawing a very long bow to call democratic advocacy aiding and abetting suicide. The police have overstepped the mark here, abusing their powers to try and enforce laws which haven't been on the books for decades. They need to be reined in,and told very clearly to stop trying to interfere with our democracy.

(Meanwhile, I look forward to them being sued for this, because it seems to be the only way they learn anything...)

Our racist police

Today's "better work story": the police refused to hire a woman because she is Tūhoe

Before beginning her training at Police College in Wellington she was required to go on patrol with officers in Whakatane.

The local officer who wrote a report on her performance told her it wouldn't be a good one but wouldn't say why, or give her a copy of what he'd written.

Ms Tulloch then approached the college, where a recruitment officer told her one of the reasons she'd failed was because she is Tūhoe.

She said she was told she was too nice, she knew too many people, and was Tūhoe.

Which appears to be a prima facie case of unlawful discrimination on the basis of ethnic or national origin.

The police are denying it, but they would, wouldn't they? And their refusal to release the information to their victim makes it look like they have something to hide. As a government agency, and a law-enforcement agency, they have a duty to demonstrate that they are obeying the law. Failing to do that simply compounds their crime.

Finally, the police are supposedly trying to mend fences with Tūhoe after the 2007 Urewera raids. Refusing to hire members of that iwi seems to be a damn funny way to go about it.

AT&T provides mass-surveillance for hire

AT&T is the USA's largest provider of cellphone landlines, and its second-largest cellphone provider. This obviously makes it a prime target for anyone like the NSA looking at mass-surveillance. But instead of acting only in response to lawful court-orders and providing only what is requested, AT&T provides mass-surveillance for hire, selling searches of its huge metadata database as a subscriber service to law enforcement:

Telecommunications giant AT&T is selling access to customer data to local law enforcement in secret, new documents released on Monday reveal.

The program, called Hemisphere, was previously known only as a “partnership” between the company and the US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) for the purposes of counter-narcotics operations.

It accesses the trove of telephone metadata available to AT&T, who control a large proportion of America’s landline and cellphone infrastructure. Unlike other providers, who delete their stored metadata after a certain time, AT&T keeps information like call time, duration, and even location data on file for years, with records dating back to 2008.

But according to internal company documents revealed Monday by the Daily Beast, Hemisphere is being sold to local police departments and used to investigate everything from murder to Medicaid fraud, costing US taxpayers millions of dollars every year even while riding roughshod over privacy concerns.

And they do this in secret, under an agreement which requires those agencies to perjure themselves in court to protect the source of the information they are relying on. And that's not done for any valid law-enforcement reason, but to protect AT&T's stock price from public backlash.

This simply is not ethical behaviour from a telecommunications provider. It also points to the danger of allowing providers to retain large databases of metadata. While some information needs to be retained for billing and technical purposes, there's absolutely no need to retain everything permanently (AT&T's cellphone database goes back to 2008; its landline records to 1987. If you've ever made a call in or to the US to someone who uses AT&T, you're probably in there).

It also raises obvious questions about how long New Zealand telecommunications providers retain metadata for. The Privacy Act requires that they not keep personal information for longer than it is required for, and I'd be fascinated to find out how long each of them thinks that is. A query for the Privacy Commisisoner or TechLiberty, perhaps?

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

An abuse of power

We accept drink-driving checkpoints on our roads because of the dangers posed by drunk driving. But rather than using them for that purpose, the police are using them to gather intelligence on elderly euthanasia advocates:

Wellington police may have used an alcohol checkpoint to gather information about elderly women attending euthanasia meetings.

The women had been attending an Exit International meeting on a Sunday afternoon early this month in the Lower Hutt suburb of Maungaraki.

As they left, about 4pm, all were pulled over at the checkpoint and – before being asked to blow into the machine – were made to give their names and addresses, and show their driver's licences.

In the days that followed, at least 10 of them received visits from police officers, asking questions about their association with Exit, a pro-euthanasia group.

If confirmed, this is very obviously an abuse of power. The police have these powers to enforce road safety - not to spy on those democratically advocating law change. Any use of them for an improper purpose is illegal and a violation of our rights against arbitrary detention and unlawful search. Any evidence gathered from them is fruit of the poisonous tree and must be discarded.

Meanwhile, I'm wondering which top cop's parent killed themselves to have the police devoting so many resources to this repressive campaign.

New Fisk

Saudi Arabia ‘deliberately targeting impoverished Yemen’s farms and agricultural industry’

Will Iceland go Pirate?

Iceland goes to the polls on Saturday - and the Pirate Party is still leading:

The party that could be on the cusp of winning Iceland's national elections on Saturday didn't exist four years ago.

Its members are a collection of anarchists, hackers, libertarians and Web geeks. It sets policy through online polls - and thinks the government should do the same. It wants to make Iceland "a Switzerland of bits," free of digital snooping. It has offered Edward Snowden a new place to call home.


The latest opinion polls show the Pirates jostling for first place with the Independence Party. The centre-right party is synonymous with Iceland's political establishment, having governed the country for much of its modern history. But it was badly tarnished by its stewardship of the bubble economy in the lead-up to the 2008 crash.

I'm fascinated to see how this goes. If the Pirate party enters government it will be a huge boost to the global anti-surveillance movement and help increase pressure elsewhere. And it will be interesting to see what stealable solutions they come up with to help everyone protect themselves from the spies and the copyright mafia.

Friday, October 21, 2016

This is why we need Parliamentary authorisation for military deployments

The Guardian is reporting that New Zealand SAS troops are in combat in Northern Iraq. The government is vigorously denying the claims, but do you believe them? The problem - entirely of their own making - is that they cloud SAS deployments in self-serving secrecy and refuse to give any details. This, combined with the fact that they reserved the right to send them to Iraq alongside the supposedly non-combatant trainers, means that it can't really be ruled out.

Which is precisely why foreign military deployments should have to be authorised by Parliament. The government shouldn't have the right to involve us in a shooting war and send kiwis overseas to kill and die without telling us about it. The UK requires Parliamentary authorisation for foreign military deployments. We should follow suit.

A blow against bigotry in the UK

The UK government has agreed to pardon gay men convicted of historic offences:

Thousands of gay and bisexual men convicted under outdated gross indecency laws are to be posthumously pardoned, the Government has announced, in a “momentous” victory for campaigners.

Announcing what has been dubbed as the ‘Alan Turing law’ justice minister Sam Gyimah said the Government would seek to implement the change through an amendment to the Policing and Crime Bill. It will effectively act as an apology to those convicted for consensual same-sex relationships before homosexuality was decriminalised in England and Wales in 1967.


In another step, the Government is also announcing that it will introduce a new statutory pardon for the living in cases where offences have been successfully deleted through the disregard process.

Mr Gyimah added: “It is hugely important that we pardon people convicted of historical sexual offences who would be innocent of any crime today. Through pardons and the existing disregard process we will meet our manifesto commitment to put right these wrongs.”

Righting this historic wrong is a great step forward for justice in the UK, and a blow against bigotry. But what about New Zealand? There's a petition currently before the Justice and Electoral Committee, but the government's response has been to dismiss it as "too hard". National thinks it is far easier to let these people carry the burden of their unjust convictions than to act to correct them - and that's just wrong. These people were convicted of things that should never have been criminal in the first place. The government has wronged them, and it needs to right that wrong and apologise. If the UK can do it, then so can we.

New Fisk

Lebanon is a sectarian nation, yet it has avoided civil war while the Middle East burns – here's why

Open Government: Finally, an action plan!

Yesterday, just ten days before the (self-extended) deadline, the government released its Second Open Government Partnership National Action Plan 2016-18. The first action plan was a disaster, with unambitious and vague "commitments" developed in secret without meaningful input from the public. The good news is that this one is much better.

The Action Plan contains seven commitments, focusing on open data, an open budget, improved OIA practice, improved access to legislation, improved policy practice (including around consultation), and improved OGP engagement. Many of these reflect suggestions made in the public engagement process, and there's no hidden Big Brother agenda. They're also all specific and measureable, with defined milestones, so we can tell if the government is meeting its commitments.

The downside however is a lack of ambition. There's nothing big here, nothing which is going to be transformative or which will be a star commitment - no sign that the government has bought in to the OGP agenda of a race for the top. Instead, they're still trying to do as little as possible while not spending any money or changing anything substantive. They're just doing a better job of complying with OGP guidelines than last time.

In other words, we have a victory of process over substance, which ignores the OGP's promise of real change. New Zealand can and should do better.

Thursday, October 20, 2016


National's New Zealand: where austistic teenagers are held in prison because the DHB is too lazy to help them:

A severely autistic young man is being held in prison because disability service providers cannot find an alternative place for him.

The 18-year-old, who has name suppression, appeared in the Palmerston North District Court this morning before Judge Gerard Lynch, who labelled the situation as "outrageous".

Community liaison nurse Grahame Stillwell said the young man was taken into custody on Sunday, after allegedly assaulting his mother.

He was assessed by the Mid-Central District Health Board crisis team, who said they were unable to perform a full assessment because of the man's challenging behaviour.

Stillwell said nothing had changed since then, and no agencies had responded to his emails asking for help.

The judge is right: this is outrageous. We should be helping disabled people, not imprisoning them - but here we have a young man effectively warehoused in prison because the government agency responsible for providing that help is too fucking lazy to do its job. But I guess helping him would cost money; easier to just dump him on someone else's budget instead.


We're supposed to live in a free society, where people are free to advocate peacefully for changes to the law. But if you advocate peacefully for death with dignity, the police will come knocking on your door:

Wilhelmina Irving is 76, healthy, and law-abiding. She has no immediate plans to die.

But because she attended a euthanasia meeting in Lower Hutt on October 2, at which police were also believed to be present and noting down car registration plates, the law came knocking on her door.


When she recently got a knock at the door from a plain-clothed officer calling himself an inspector, she assumed he was a building inspector. But it soon turned out he wanted to discuss the meeting.

"He told me he knew exactly what had been said, who was there, everything else and [asked] what did I have to say?"

He asked if her children knew whether she had investigated the option of eventually ending her life. Her children did know, she said, just as they knew of her 25-year membership of the Voluntary Euthanasia Society VES).

Before leaving, the inspector gave her a letter, containing details for suicide and depression helplines, which she was instructed to open after he left.

This is chilling and Orwellian. It is no crime to advocate for a law change. It is no crime even to kill yourself. So why are the police investigating and persecuting these people? When Parliament is looking at changing the law, it smacks of interfering in the democratic process.

New Fisk

Saudi Arabia cannot go on throwing every decent person who speaks out on human rights into jail

Drawn: Democracy for ECan?

A ballot for one member's bill was held today and the following bill was drawn:

  • Environment Canterbury (Democracy Restoration) Amendment Bill
Unfortunately, the bill hasn't been updated to take account of the Environment Canterbury (Transitional Governance Arrangements) Act 2016. So where simply calling an election was enough under the old Environment Canterbury (Temporary Commissioners and Improved Water Management) Act 2010 to return ECan to full democratic rule, all it does now is call an election. Fixing this requires a minor tweak to the definition of "resumption day" in s4 to mirror the old Act in returning everything to normal after the next election. It could be easily done by a select committee, but the question is whether it will get there.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Climate change: No silver bullets for agriculture

The Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment released a report today on Climate change and agriculture: Understanding the biological greenhouse gases. It investigates New Zealand's agricultural greenhouse gases and what we can do to mitigate them.

Unfortunately, the answer seems to be "not a lot". The government makes a lot of noise about how it is investing in Science!TM to find a silver bullet solution to allow these emissions to be magiced away without affecting farmers' profits. It turns out that its not that simple. While there's a lot of avenues of research, we're a long way from any solution, let alone one which meets the requirements of being cost-effective, easily delivered, and not tainting the milk with illegal residues. Basicly, the current policy of crossing our fingers and hoping (because we can't possibly make farmers pay their own way like everyone else does) isn't working. And meanwhile, the planet continues to burn...

So what can we do? The PCE suggests bringing nitrogen fertilisers into the ETS, since they're easily managed. This will mean higher prices, based on their decay emissions, and this should in turn discourage farmers from using them (or, in market-speak, ensure that they use them when the benefit of using them outweighs the cost). They also suggest lower stocking rates, which no government is ever going to push despite the clear benefits both for the climate and our waterways. But ultimately they suggest offsetting agricultural emissions with trees as a stopgap measure to allow us to buy more time. The scale required is enormous - a million hectares of native forest. But that's what you end up having to do when you let a polluting sector grow like a cancer for twenty years without doing anything to stop it.

The problem is that this merely pushes the problem into the future. While like John Key I hope for a scientific solution to agricultural emissions, unlike him I recognise that hope is not a strategy. Instead, its the policy equivalent of saying that you'll pay your bills by winning the lottery. Agricultural emissions are a real problem now. They are destroying the planet now. And some hoped-for magic bean future solution does absolutely nothing to solve it now. We need a solution for this in the here-and-now, not the distant future, and if the government doesn't want that solution to be shooting cows (saving ~2.5T/year per cow), they need to come up with something.

Climate change: A good move

The Cullen Fund is getting out of fossil fuels:

The New Zealand Superannuation Fund will start getting rid of its investments in fossil fuel companies, it has announced.

The sell-down is part of The Super Fund's climate change strategy, which includes measuring its carbon footprint, engaging with companies and investing more in low carbon or renewable businesses.

The $31 billion fund will not be getting rid of all its fossil fuels investments, however, focusing instead on where it could reduce climate risk "as quickly and easily as possible".

Superannuation Fund chief executive Adrian Orr said the plan would most likely improve the Fund's performance.

Basicly, climate change means there's no future for coal, and a limited future for oil and gas. Ditto industries which depend on those dirty fuels (which, in New Zealand, means milk). Which means that the Cullen Fund's "investments" in those industries are likely to decline in value or simply crash. Selling out of them now, before that happens, is simply good sense from an agency required to be a prudent manager.

Now, if only ACC would do the same, rather than risking people's future accident compensation on doomed industries...

Member's Day

Today is a Member's Day. While the committee stage of a private bill will take up most of the afternoon, after that the House should deal with the second reading of Chris Bishop's Financial Assistance for Live Organ Donors Bill. Once that's done, we'll get some fireworks with Chris Hipkins' Education (Charter Schools Abolition) Amendment Bill, and if the House moves quickly it will make a start on Ruth Dyson's Rates Rebate (Retirement Village Residents) Amendment Bill. Which will mean a ballot for one or two bills tomorrow.

New Fisk

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