Transparency and Intelligence

Dan Wildy
Director: National Intelligence
New Zealand Police

Just over a year ago, the precarious nature of the public’s trust in Intelligence was highlighted by two incidents separated by a matter of days. 

On 7 March 2021 and 9 March 2021, Police were respectively criticised for undertaking routine intelligence collection in one setting and for not undertaking routine intelligence collection in another. In the former, the collection conducted was done on a discretionary basis and while the appropriateness of the individual judgement has been challenged it was limited to collections activity relating to a small number of people. In the other, the surveillance not conducted was of an online post board where in excess of 140,000 posts are made daily, expire after a limited amount of time, and are predominantly made by individuals living outside New Zealand.

These events prompted the New Zealand Police Commissioner, Andrew Coster, to write an op-ed article published in the New Zealand Herald. In the article, Commissioner Coster asked the question, “What are the appropriate boundaries for police intelligence collection and what trade-offs are we, as a community, prepared to make in the interests of safety?” 

Fundamentally, he was asking a question that at its heart speaks to the issue of social licence and public trust. How much trust does the public have in the intelligence functions of government to respect their privacy – using our legislated powers only when necessary and with discretion proportionate to perceived threat, while at the same time, using those same legislated powers in a sufficiently broad way as to scan for known unknowns in the vastness of our online and physical world?

Trust is developed through competence and a demonstration of good character, where competence is measured in terms of whether intelligence ‘got it right’, and character is measured in terms of transparency. 

The commitment of the New Zealand Intelligence community to transparency is not hard to find. It is reflected in the speeches and public statements of both the Director-Generals of the New Zealand Security Intelligence Service (NZSIS), and Government Communications and Security Bureau (GCSB). It is also visible in key documents, including Police’s National Intelligence Operating Model and our value of respect: 

“We serve the New Zealand people. We support and comply with the laws of New Zealand, and all privacy, civil liberties, and human rights obligations. We are committed to using our methods of collection proportionally and view the maintenance of public consent as a treasured responsibility.”

The question of competence is at times more difficult to see. After all, intelligence done well supports good policy development, successful operational activity, and where this occurs, the role of intelligence goes unnoticed. The other place to see the competence of intelligence is in the absence of failure, something in part reflected in the relative safety of those of us lucky enough to call Aotearoa ‘home.’ 

About the author: Dan Wildy is the Director of National Intelligence for the New Zealand Police. According to Dan:“The ethics of Intelligence is a professional passion of mine, so anything I can do to promote it is of interest.”

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