Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Surprising as it may seem, I don't approve of Hager's rights being violated either

I’ve been out of the country for the past three weeks so have only just learned, via political scientist Bryce Edwards’ online political roundup, of the furore surrounding Westpac’s release to the police, without a court order, of private information relating to Nicky Hager.

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.

1 comment:

macdoctor said...

Not sure if I agree with you here, Karl. Hagar's privacy violation is quite trivial. Essentially the police were too lazy to get a warrant, so they simply asked for the data they needed. This is police SOP. It is not the right thing to do and was especially stupid considering it was Hager's data. Having said that, there is no doubt at all that the police would have been able to get a warrant and access the data completely legally, because they did just that for a number of more sensible institutions that requested a warrant. Essentially the data was accessed legally but improperly.

Cam Slater's e-mails, on the other hand were accessed completely illegally by a hacker and then used by Hager (who certainly knew the data was obtained illegally). This is far more worrying because, while Hager's minor privacy breach caused a media frenzy of disapproval, Slater's far more serious breach met with media glee, approval and collaboration.

The stench of hypocrisy on this one is strong.