Edwards details the angry reaction, from both left and right, to the bank’s compliance with the police request, which was reported by the New Zealand Herald.
From what I’ve read, that outrage is entirely justified. The episode confirms that Hager has been justified in sounding the alarm about surveillance and invasion of privacy. We are altogether too apathetic in assuming that agencies such as the police and the GCSB - not to mention corporates such as Westpac - will protect our rights and interests as citizens.
But having trawled through media comment on the issue, Edwards goes on to make a peculiar statement. He seems to suggest that because I wrote a column back in July arguing that Hager is not a journalist in the commonly understood definition of the word, I might not share the media concern about the apparent overriding of his right to privacy by the police and Westpac.
Not so. It’s one thing to dispute Hager’s claim to be a journalist; quite another to approve of the police delving into his private affairs without first having to satisfy a court that it’s justified. In fact I see no connection. Objecting to the way Hager's rights have been violated has nothing to do with whether he’s a journalist. The police action, and Westpac’s apparent complicity, would be just as obnoxious if he were a gravedigger or hairdresser.
As Edwards acknowledges, I said in my July column that Hager does some important work. I wrote that he could teach journalists a few things about uncovering information that powerful people would prefer to keep hidden. I also said his books made an important contribution to informed debate on issues such as state surveillance and honesty in government.
I stand by all that. My concerns about Hager are essentially twofold: first, that he uses the label “journalist”, with all its connotations of even-handedness and impartiality, to disguise his true purpose, which is that of an ideological crusader; and second, that the publication of his Dirty Politics book was carefully timed to coincide with a general election, in the clear hope that it would cause maximum political damage. But neither of those concerns could be construed as endorsement of any disregard for his rights or violation of his privacy.
I do, however, share Cameron Slater’s view that the reaction to the latest disclosures exposes a gaping double standard. Where was the media outrage when Slater’s email account was hacked?
There’s a difference, of course, in that this time it’s an agency of the state that’s digging into someone’s personal affairs. That’s infinitely more alarming than the actions of a rogue private hacker. But Slater is right to point out that the hacker, Rawshark, largely escaped media condemnation - as did Hager, who used the information Rawshark obtained.