Recent public discussion about the IGIS's Reference Group has prompted a range of comments and questions about the group and its role.
Some of it is addressed in my previous statement www.igis.govt.nz/media-releases/reference-group/, and some in other public material including mainstream media coverage www.stuff.co.nz/nz-intelligence-and-security-agencies-without-layer-of-oversight-since2016(external link) and www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news,(external link) as well as blogs (external link)nzccl.org.nz/blog/igis-reference-group-toe-inside-tent(external link) and www.kiwipolitico.com/2018/on-intelligence-oversight-a-broader-perspective. (external link)Acknowledging the public and media interest, the following questions have emerged since then and my answers follow.(external link)
Q1 Is this a “Government” Reference Group?
No, it’s not appointed by the Government, the New Zealand Security Intelligence Service or the Government Communications Security Bureau, or the Minister responsible for those agencies. The Inspector-General is an independent, statutory officer and I convened this Group.
Q2 Will members of the Reference Group be able to see classified information or hear about top security operations?
No. The members of the Reference Group do not have security clearances and it would be unlawful to give them access to that material.
The purpose of the Reference Group is for the Office of the Inspector-General to hear from the members about their areas of research, experience and expertise. Its purpose is not to give the members information, other than the kind of information I already make public on my office’s website or in public speeches or interviews.
Q3 Who are the members of the Reference Group and how were they chosen?
I invited a range of individuals to be part of the Reference Group on the basis of their particular areas of expertise and experience, all of which touch on issues relevant to my role as the primary oversight body of New Zealand’s intelligence and security activities.
The membership of the group is deliberately broad – there is little value in talking only to people who reinforce the views of my office or the views of the intelligence and security agencies. The Dutch intelligence oversight body, the CTIVD, has a similar kind of external group of experts who they refer to as their “sparring partners”.
The members of the Group are here:
I am also considering setting up a smaller, Technical Reference Group, with expertise in technological areas including cyber security, AI and emerging online tools and platforms.
Q4 What is the legal basis for the Reference Group?
The Reference Group is not a statutory body, as the Advisory panel is (see Q7), but an informal grouping. I can, of course, speak to people outside the intelligence community and I consider it critical to do so in order to remain independent and able to provide rigorous oversight of the intelligence and security agencies.
I can, and do, have individual conversations with a broad range of people but there will be times when it is more practical, cheaper and more effective to get a group of individuals with different skills, experiences and perspectives in the same room, debating ideas. Most importantly, I have an obligation to be transparent in what I do, not just with my formal findings and reports, which are published, but about who I am talking to.
Q5 Who else does the Inspector-General talk to?
First and foremost, I talk with the Directors-General and the staff of both the NZSIS and the GCSB, who provide access to all of their work and expert briefings on that work.
I meet with Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee, at least once a year.
I also talk with a range of people and groups, as part of a wider programme of external engagement (we will soon be publishing our strategic engagement plan):
I meet regularly with other “integrity agencies”, particularly the Privacy Commissioner, the Chief Ombudsman and the Auditor-General, all of whom have some role in the oversight of the intelligence and security agencies.
I meet regularly with my overseas counterparts – primarily the oversight bodies from the other FiveEyes partners, but also a much wider group convened annually by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Privacy.
I speak at public meetings, workshops and panels whenever invited.
I do interviews with the news media, to reach as broad an audience as possible.
Q6 Does the Reference Group “advise” the Inspector-General?
No, it is not their role to provide advice. The members of the Reference Group provide an update on what is happening in their areas of expertise and identify matters that might be relevant to the work of my office. The members of the Group were not consulted on a draft Work Programme, but I will consider how any issues they raise in the Reference Group might be relevant to my Work Programme.
Q7 How does the Reference Group fit with the Inspector-General’s Advisory panel?
The Reference group is not intended as a substitute for the Advisory panel. Although there is no Advisory panel in place at the moment, appointments (which are made by the Governor-General, on the recommendation of the Prime Minister, after the PM has consulted Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee) are likely in the near future.
The members of the Advisory panel will have security clearances which means I can discuss with them operational and relationship matters that I cannot discuss with the Reference Group. The Advisory panel functions in many ways like a Board.
Q8 Did the Inspector-General consult the Minister responsible for the New Zealand Security Intelligence Service and the Government Communications Security Bureau about the membership of the Reference Group and if not, why not?
No, I did not consult the Minister. The IGIS is an independent statutory officer, independent from the intelligence agencies themselves and from the Minister responsible for the agencies. It would not have been appropriate to consult the Minister.
As the Cullen Reddy review of the agencies said: “It is crucial that the Inspector-General’s independence is maintained to ensure a balanced and politically-neutral assessment of the Agencies’ activities.”1
Q9 How much will the Reference Group cost?
The Reference Group members are not paid for their time.
The costs of the first meeting entailed:
Travel costs for a few of the members of the Group who live outside Wellington
Meeting room hire (suitable meeting room space will be available for future meetings without cost)
Catering (afternoon tea)
It is expected that the Reference Group will meet two or three times a year.
There were minimal time costs for me, the Deputy Inspector-General and some of our staff involved in preparing for and attending the Reference Group meeting.
1 Hon Sir Michael Cullen and Dame Patsy Reddy, Intelligence and Security in a Free Society, 29 February 2016, at 4.47.