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After Christchurch, what now?

Paul Brislen, Editor. 18 March 2019, 8:19 am

In the aftermath of the callous terrorist attack in Christchurch attention is turning to the role of the security services in assessing and managing risk to New Zealand.

Since the September 11, 2001 attacks in the US New Zealand has joined a number of other nations around the world in beefing up the laws relating the operations of its security forces - in this case the SIS and GCSB - along with amendments to the Crimes Act to bring our laws up to date to deal with electronic crimes, encryption and surveillance.

There is always a risk in the aftermath of such events, that there is a rush to increase surveillance activity and reduce public and individual freedoms. Thankfully so far that has largely been absent from the debate following the Christchurch attacks.

But what is needed is a closer look at how our security services operate, what areas they target and which areas are left largely unmonitored. In a world of limited resources prioritisation is essential but how are those decisions made will no doubt be the subject of scrutiny in the months ahead.

This will include the police as well as the security services, and also our international relationships and how they benefit (or fail) New Zealand's security.

While there is a growing view that the gunman operated in isolation, it is clear he travelled widely, engaged in a large amount of online activity relating to his extremist views and still managed to get a firearms licence in New Zealand without anyone seemingly reviewing his public utterances on matters of race or religion.

While we review the actions of the authorities before and during that terrible day, a number of media outlets will also have to review their role in enabling this crime. Both mainstream and social media have been complicit in normalising extremist views, and in sharing (or failing to stop the sharing) of objectionable content. 

This isn't a free speech issue - this is about hate speech and the rule of law. While some see any attempt to limit freedom to speak your mind as an attack on the heart of democracy, we already have limits in place on what can and cannot be said publicly. It's already illegal to share objectionable material, such as the footage the killer shot and streamed live during his attack, yet for some that's an unacceptable restriction on his right to free speech. Defamation laws, privacy laws and court suppression orders are there for a reason and are widely supported, yet they also are limits on the freedom of the individual to say whatever they like.

All of this will have to be thoroughly assessed and publicly debated if we are to build the New Zealand we thought we were. If anything good can come out of this horrible week, a stronger, fairer New Zealand should be it.


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David Lane 18 March 2019, 10:54 am

Well said Paul. Thanks for this.

Tim Robinson 24 March 2019, 11:23 am

Although not disagreeing with the article, the police interviewed this guy more than once and checked his neighbours and references before allowing him to legally purchase a gun. That's what they're supposed to do; what extra steps are required. In the UK, police spend all day surfing the web looking to arrest grannies who have a beef with something, while declaring that all theft under $500 will not be investigated. Not going well over there...

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