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The Internet Party of New Zealand wants to roll back invasive surveillance laws with a citizen-sourced anti-spying bill, which it drafted during a livestream in early August.
The party’s new leader, Suzie Dawson, chaired the livestreamed event, which featured a panel of activists that included entrepreneur and Internet Party founder and entrepreneur Kim Dotcom, journalist Barrett Brown, and British hacktivist Lauri Love, who currently faces extradition to the United States.
The three-hour conversation concluded as Dawson invited viewers from around the world to participate in selecting fundamental elements of the bill’s framework. The proposed legislation will eventually be presented to privacy and human rights organizations across the world in the hope that they will lobby for its adoption.
“It was a great first effort and wonderful to see conscientious citizens around the world spreading the word to their friends, families and communities; filling the gap left by the New Zealand media who are so far abjectly failing in their obligation to pursue journalism in the public interest about this event,” Dawson said.
The next session is set to take place on Sunday, Aug. 20, and will feature Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) whistleblower John Kiriakou alongside other guests still to be announced. The event will be broadcast on the party’s Facebook and YouTube pages. Also, as with the flagship session, 100 first-come-first-served tickets are available for those who wish to have direct access to the panelists.
The initiative was born out of the party’s ambition to counter a “string of draconian spying laws passed between 2013 and 2016” by the New Zealand government that exposes its citizens to warrantless spying and domestic visual surveillance from foreign agencies.
Files leaked by former National Security Agency (NSA) analyst Edward Snowden first revealed the extent to which New Zealand’s surveillance apparatus was compliant with the NSA’s system and its place in the Five Eyes intelligence sharing partnership between Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
Just days before the #AntiSpyBill event, documents released through New Zealand’s High Court revealed that the NSA had illegally used the Government Communications Security Bureau’s (GCSB) surveillance apparatus to spy on resident, including Dotcom. The U.S. is pursuing the millionaire over charges of copyright infringement and money laundering related to his now-defunct file-sharing website Megaupload.
Although both agencies spied on Dotcom together in a joint intelligence operation, the GCSB had scheduled to cease its surveillance in January 2012. The U.S., however, continued to surveil him.
“New Zealand spies and their international counterparts have engaged in some of the most egregious conduct imaginable,” Dawson said in a press statement. “The laws passed under urgency in recent years have only furthered the sense of invulnerability of these spies. They also violate international law. We must show that where our lawmakers fail to do so, the public are willing to step up and address these issues themselves.”
Dawson, an activist and citizen journalist, has reported extensively on the GCSB. She fled New Zealand with her family in 2016, saying that the government had been harassing her for her coverage and currently resides in Russia where she is seeking temporary asylum.
This didn’t stop Dotcom approaching Dawson in late January 2017 to ask whether she would consider a role as the Internet Party’s leader.
“[I]t came as a huge surprise to me as I had never considered entering politics. But the more I examined the idea, the clearer the synergies were,” Dawson told New Zealand Media and Entertainment
The Internet Party was founded in 2014 and ambitiously ran in the New Zealand general election that year in coalition with the Mana Movement, an effort that was funded by Dotcom. Internet Mana, as it was known, failed to win a single seat—only gaining 1.4 percent of the vote. Dotcom took public responsibility for the electoral defeat, which he blamed on the coalition’s association with his persona.
It’s with renewed resolve, however, that Dawson announced the party would be running in this year’s general election on Sept. 23. With the success of the first #AntiSpyBill panel session, the party is planning several more live events in the run-up to voting day.
David Gilmour is a reporter who specializes in national politics, internet culture, and technology.