NZSIS Response to Information Requests
The following explains how the NZSIS responds to requests for information and why we frequently respond with "we can neither confirm nor deny the existence of information".
The NZSIS protects national security and advances New Zealand’s interests. Its work includes:
- Safeguarding New Zealand from the actions of foreign powers that might otherwise damage the interests of New Zealand
- Preventing the potential facilitation of terrorist acts both in New Zealand and overseas
- Preventing the spread of weapons of mass destruction
Across many of its activities, the NZSIS tries to be as open as possible. The NZSIS may be able to disclose the existence of information and release certain files, subject to the requirements of the Official Information Act, Privacy Act and NZSIS Act.
Using ‘Neither Confirm nor Deny’ Response
The general principle of neither confirming nor denying the existence or non-existence of information, particularly in relation to investigations, allows our work to continue. The success of the investigatory work of the NZSIS relies on discretion and confidentiality.
If an individual receives a "neither confirm nor deny" response, this does not necessarily mean they are of security interest. Usually, they will be of no concern to the NZSIS at all. But the unique nature of our work means we must neither confirm nor deny the existence of information broadly, in order to preserve our investigatory work.
For a more detailed explanation about this please click here
Examples where existence of information may be disclosed
Legal processes: Where an individual knows the NZSIS has information as a result of legal processes, the fact of the NZSIS holdings is not sensitive.
- Where the person initiated contact with NZSIS: Sometimes, the sole reason the NZSIS has information on its files relating to an individual is because the individual initiated contact with the NZSIS, either to offer information, or for other reasons.
- Vetting: The NZSIS may hold information about a person because they have sought a security clearance or been a referee for a person seeking a security clearance, a process that falls within one of the functions of the NZSIS. The fact of this holding is not sensitive.
- NZSIS disclosed an interest: For whatever reason, the NZSIS may have already disclosed that it holds material on a person or subject area. In such cases there is no sensitivity about the fact that the NZSIS holds information about them.
Methods and investigation effectiveness would be compromised if the subjects of investigation knew when and how certain investigative techniques were being deployed. In particular the NZSIS is susceptible to group requests by people seeking to know whether they are under investigation.
It may appear that if no information is held on an individual or subject, the NZSIS could confirm the non-existence of information. Unfortunately, such an approach could prejudice security as it discloses what the NZSIS does not know, and also leaves the NZSIS open to orchestrated requests designed to flush out specific areas of investigation, or to identify the boundaries of our knowledge.
New Zealand legislation offers special protection to NZSIS information including:
- Section 12A of the NZSIS Act which prevents any officer or employee of the NZSIS from disclosing any information obtained through their connection with the NZSIS otherwise than in the strict course of official duties or as authorised by the Minister.
- Section 13A of the NZSIS Act which makes it an offence for any person to publish or broadcast the fact that any person is a member of the NZSIS (other than the Director), or is connected in any way with a member of the NZSIS.
- Section 26 of the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security Act 1996 which prevents the Inspector-General or any of his staff from disclosing to any person security records or other official information relating to the activities of an intelligence and security agency.
Safeguards and Oversight
The rights of individuals must be protected. The NZSIS is subject to several safeguards and oversight, including the:
- Privacy Commissioner,
- Office of the Ombudsmen,
- Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security,
- Intelligence and Security Committee,
- Commissioner of Security Warrants.