Prime Minister John Key has told an anxious New Zealand public that if they don’t want to be spied on by the Government Communications Security Bureau, then all they need to do is hide under a blanket.
At a select committee hearing on a new bill to redefine the powers of the GCSB to allow it greater flexibility in conducting surveillance, Key told submitters – including internet entrepreneur Kim Dotcom – that he felt they were spreading misinformation about the bill, and that the expansion of powers “isn’t that bad,” because the Government still can’t get a camera “up on underneath your pants or whatever.”
“Look, you’re wrong, actually,” said Key to civil liberties campaigner Thomas Beagle. “You’re suggesting that, under this bill, New Zealanders would just have to accept being watched all hours of the day, right?”
“Well, obviously not as an absolute,” replied Beagle. “But in a general sense, yes.”
“Well that’s not true,” said Key matter-of-factly. “Actually, if you really don’t want to be spied on, you can put a blanket over your head.”
Asked how the blanket would prevent the Government from reading text messages or emails, Key replied “It wouldn’t.”
He rejected suggestions from several subsequent submissions that putting a blanket over one’s head should not be a necessary measure, and that it was degrading.
“No, look, I think a blanket is very effective, actually,” he said, noting that Green Party co-leader Russel Norman had already taken the similar measure of wearing a box over his head.
“It seems to be working for him,” he added.
While he understood that some might be uncomfortable about having to wear a blanket or a box, Key said that government surveillance was “an unfortunate but necessary reality,” and that it was just a routine security measure, “like at the Warehouse.”
“I think most New Zealanders would agree that we don’t want a bomb to kill our family,” he argued.
Key said it was not for him to tell people what kind of blanket they should buy or how and when to wear it, but he did caution against wrapping the blanket around the head in such a way that only the face is revealed, because “that will only make you more suspicious.”