NZSIS was established in 1956 as the New Zealand Security Intelligence Service. Until then, apart from a brief period during the Second World War, national security had been handled by the Police.
Between 1956 and 1969, the NZSIS existed without a legislative base.
Legislation in 1969 (the NZSIS Act):
- gave the NZSIS a new name (the New Zealand Security Intelligence Service)
- recognised its existence in statute, and
- defined its role: to protect New Zealand from threats of espionage, sabotage and subversion.
Evolving nature of the NZSIS's tasks
Over the years, the specific tasks of the NZSIS have changed. This is because of evolving perceptions of what is relevant to national security and how that concept should be defined.
In the NZSIS Act 1969 (section 2) “security” was defined in terms of espionage, sabotage and subversion.
The definition of security was amended to take account of international terrorism.
1996 and 1999
The definition of security was again amended in 1996, and then in 1999, to recognise changes in the international security environment since the 1970s. New situations have developed with new implications for New Zealand's security and well-being.
The 1996 and 1999 changes extended the role of the NZSIS to include reference to factors which impact on New Zealand's international and economic well-being. When the NZSIS Act was amended in 1999, it confirmed that it was also a function of the NZSIS to:
- make recommendations relevant to security relating to immigration and citizenship matters
- conduct enquiries and make appropriate recommendations as to whether particular individuals should be granted security clearances, and
- give advice on protective measures relevant to security.
The definition of security was further amended to be consistent with the Terrorism Suppression Act 2002. In 2011 changes were made prior to the Rugby World Cup and in 2014 as part of the Countering Terrorist Fighters Legislative Bill.
On 28 March 2017 the Intelligence and Security Act 2017 gained Royal Assent. On 1 April 2017, the first provisions under the Act took effect. On 28 September 2017 further provisions under the Intelligence and Security Act 2017 came into force.