New Zealand accesses journalist’s records, movements

Following reports earlier this week that New Zealand, with help from U.S. intelligence, may have spied on one of its journalists, Wellington is under fire for tracking the phone records and movement of another journalist. Ironically, this journalist came under surveillance after writing about potentially illegal government surveillance.

After weeks of denial, David Carter, the speaker of the house, acknowledged on Tuesday that a three-month log of Fairfax journalist Andrea Vance’s phone calls was released to the Henry Inquiry, a parliamentary probe tasked with investigating an April leak of a classified report. The journalist’s movements around the premises of parliament were also tracked through use of her swipe card, a parliamentary agency confirmed, according to local reports.

The leaked documented that Vance acquired and wrote about–known as the Kitteridge report –found that New Zealand’s main intelligence agency may have unlawfully gathered intelligence on more than 80 people.

Opposition parties in New Zealand say Prime Minister John Key acted unconstitutionally by placing undue pressure on a parliamentary agency to access Vance’s phone records and movement, according to local reports. Key claims that although the agency acquired Vance’s phone records, no one looked at them. Vance is skeptical of Key’s assertions.

On Tuesday, Vance viewed pages of the “metadata” that had been collected– a record of hundreds of calls she made between February and May. In an opinion column published Thursday, she elaborated on how government access to such information can impede independent reporting and compromise a journalist’s ability to protect the confidentiality of sources simply by phone numbers and call times being matched with the dates of stories that have been published.

In her opinion piece, Vance reflected on the U.S. Department of Justice’s seizure of Associated Press phone records: “Rather naively, I assumed it could never happen here. Surely, not in little old, top-of-the-transparency-index New Zealand? …but it has become rather obvious that this government has a casual disregard for media’s true role as an independent watchdog.”

Vance told CPJ, “I wrote the piece because I wanted to explain why an important line was crossed by the Henry inquiry at a time when privacy issues are being hotly debated across the world. I’ve had my say, and it’s for Henry and others now to explain their actions.”

A parliamentary committee has announced it will investigate the intrusion into Vance’s records. A public hearing is expected to take place on August 21, reports said.