Hey whenua taurikura hui: annual meeting to discuss counter-terrorism after mosque attack. Video / supplied
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern promised this morning that the public will have a bigger place in conversations about New Zealand’s national security.
“A clear message we’ve heard is that people want us to talk more about national security,” she said of Countering Terrorism and Violent Extremism in Oakland.
The pledge comes after a landmark public survey by the nine government agencies responsible for protecting the country’s security revealed people’s views on the risks New Zealand faces.
This shows that natural disasters and health epidemics were of greatest concern to New Zealanders, although people believed that the government had systems in place to manage or mitigate incidents.
Throughout the survey, there were concerns about false and misleading information, and the results showed little confidence that it was being managed.
The Prime Minister was speaking after the release of a survey and draft long-term plan aimed at enhancing New Zealand’s national security.
This is the first such in-depth study of people’s perceptions of risks and a country’s ability to deal with or resist those risks. As of this week, a royal commission into the March 15 attacks left 51 people dead and 40 injured.
Review of NZ Security Intelligence Service after Royal Commission calls for greater public involvement in national security. The NZSIS last week released a booklet to guide people to recognize the “signs of violent extremism”.
Ardern said the survey clearly showed New Zealanders wanted more information about national security threats.
The survey found that only 20 percent believe security agencies give the public enough information about what they are doing, while 39 percent said they are not told enough.
The finding follows an Inspector General of Intelligence and Security report that found security classifications were often raised to unnecessarily restrictive levels, and an Operation Burnham inquiry that declassified thousands of pages of documents previously judged to be highly sensitive.
Ardern said the information had been withheld from the public in the past because it caused people unnecessary anxiety.
She said I can’t believe this is happening. “We need to make sure we don’t panic so we can talk about these risks.”
“New Zealanders need to be more informed about current and emerging threats to our national security.”
She said much of the work done by security agencies needs to remain under wraps. When asked about the agencies’ resourcing – an issue the survey showed Kiwis were concerned about – she said more transparency would lead to more public trust funding being set at the right level.
Ardern spoke to Hui about concerns about misinformation and misinformation strongly reflected by the survey.
“There should always be room for radical ideas,” she said. “But when dehumanizing and hateful ideas are part of the ideology … it can point the way to violent extremism.”
She said “more effort is needed” to tackle the challenge of false and misleading information around which people were “particularly concerned” because it undermined trust in institutions.
A key one of those efforts was the Christchurch Call to Action initiative launched by Ardern two months after the March 15 attack, which was inspired by the live stream of the attack. It aims to draw commitments from governments, technology companies and others to remove terrorist and violent extremist content online.
The most recent was a deal involving Twitter and Microsoft to create technology that better understands the impact of algorithms on people’s online visits.
The recent purchase of Twitter by Elon Musk, the world’s richest man, put the group in “uncharted territory,” she said. Musk promised to open the platform to those who were excluded for harmfully misleading or hate speech and — in his first tweet since the purchase — posted misinformation.
Ardern said Twitter could be “a force for good” and hoped Musk would see Twitter move toward more transparency, especially about how its algorithms work.
In her speech in Hui, Ardern highlighted four global trends of concern to New Zealand. These include increased global competition, changing and new technologies, climate change and the continuing impact of Covid-19.
Cyber attacks and the threat of international organized crime were other risks facing New Zealand that were strongly highlighted in the survey.
She believes it is important to “protect our freedoms” while finding solutions to the risks New Zealand faces.
“We are not a country that believes in mass surveillance. Taking a safe response is not always the best response.