Effective and credible oversight of the intelligence agencies is crucial for assuring the New Zealand public that those agencies’ powers are being used in accordance with the law and with respect for New Zealanders’ rights to privacy.

There is an inherent tension between the secrecy required for effective intelligence operations, and legitimate public expectations of transparency in government agencies, particularly those which exercise intrusive powers. The goal is to balance these two opposing considerations in a way that provides both appropriate levels of security and public assurance. The nature of their operations means it is difficult to apply the usual accountability mechanisms provided by Parliament and the judiciary. Special oversight measures are needed and those measures need to be robust.

Both NZSIS and GCSB are subject to a range of specific oversight mechanisms.

Internal Oversight

The most immediate oversight of GCSB and NZSIS is the internal management oversight exercised day-to-day by those agencies’ leadership teams. Good internal oversight provides a reliable “compass” and a solid compliance culture.

Commissioner of Security Warrants

The Commissioner of Security Warrants advises the Minister Responsible for NZSIS on applications for domestic security warrants and jointly issues these warrants with the Minister. The role is set out in an Amendment to the NZSIS Act in 1999 (section 5A-G). The Commissioner must have previously held office as a Judge of the High Court and is appointed for a term of three years.   

Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security

The Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security (IGIS) provides independent external oversight and review of the intelligence and security agencies. The IGIS is responsible for reviewing issues of legality, efficacy and efficiency, and human rights and privacy compliance as set out in the Act establishing the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security 1996. In particular, the IGIS:

  • assists the Minister responsible for the intelligence and security agency to ensure the activities of that agency comply with the law
  • ensures that complaints relating to an intelligence or security agency are independently investigated

Intelligence and Security Committee

The Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) is the Parliamentary oversight committee for the intelligence agencies, and examines issues of efficacy and efficiency, budgetary matters and policy settings.  It is established under the Intelligence and Security Committee Act 1996 as a statutory committee of Parliament.

The functions of the ISC are:

  • to examine the policy, administration and expenditure of each intelligence and security agency
  • to consider any bill, petition or other matter in relation to an intelligence or security agency referred by the House of Representatives
  • to receive and consider the annual reports of GCSB and NZSIS
  • to consider any matter referred to the Committee by the Prime Minister

The ISC is made up of the Prime Minister, two members of Parliament nominated by the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition, and one member nominated by the Leader of the Opposition.

Other accountability and oversight bodies

The NZIC is also subject to the oversight of other independent bodies such as the Auditor-General, the Privacy Commissioner, the Office of the Ombudsman and the judiciary.