Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Gumboot terrorists

There are few things more awkward than trying to run in gumboots, but the police getting caught spying on protest groups is one of them. Bill Ralston's right, in that the immediate response to the decade-long spying career of Rob Gilchrist has been somewhat slack. But I think this one's a slow burner. It's not going to go away.

A line was crossed when Gilchrist informed on the Greens. It was very similar to the line crossed in the UK, with a front bench opposition MP arrested and his offices getting raided by police. Parliament is some sort of hallowed ground. The rules of police operate differently there than elsewhere. An immunity of sorts, a suspension of the usual rules applies, in a way that used to operate for churches, universities and maraes. The police, by convention or speaker's ruling, are forbidden from going on fishing trips there.

Another line was crossed when the enthusiastic Rob Gilchrist narked on anti-taser rallies. There's national security and then there's protecting your patch, and the police are now tarred with spying for their own ends. It is every citizen's right to speak out peacefully on any subject. It does not require police permission or agreement. It certainly does not include police informants actively undermining that expression just because the police may disagree with their opinion.

Yet another line was crossed when Gilchrist's police minders, one of them a Brit, didn't give him any parameters on how to mine information. It was open slather on sexual details of activists, political party correspondence, protest planning on anti-taser rallies. Any information, however dubious, is better than nothing. Such a level of intimacy, without just cause, says more about the voyeuristic proclivities of the data gatherers than anything they were hoping to "manage".

And I'm sure Nicky Hager hasn't finished with this by a long chalk. Those emails that Rochelle Rees copied and pasted will be dynamite. Operational details, lines of interest, juicy soundbites of embarrassment spread out over the silly season. And it serves them right. What use is your body armour, your semi-automatic rifles, your tasers, when faced with ridicule? The pen may be mightier than the sword but, as George Bush found out, the shoe can be mighty powerful too.