Journalist Nicky Hager to get $66k settlement from spy agency

November 30, 2022
Journalist Nicky Hager.

New Zealand's spy agency has agreed to pay journalist Nicky Hager $40,000 in compensation and $26,400 in legal fees after it unlawfully seized his private phone records relating to his work investigating NZ's military deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan.

It has also agreed to offer a public apology.

It comes after the New Zealand Defence Force, with assistance from the NZSIS, seized two months worth of Hager's private phone records following the release of his 2011 book Other People's Wars.

The book, which detailed New Zealand's military and intelligence activity in Iraq and Afghanistan, raised publicly the likelihood of civilian casualties during Operation Burnham.

READ MORE: Spy agencies need better safety checks, Nicky Hager's lawyer says after NZSIS illegally spied on journalist

Hager filed a complaint with the Inspector General of Intelligence and Security over the seizure of his phone records in 2019.

While the NZSIS justified its powers at the time, claiming it was investigating espionage, the spy agency said that "the Acting IGIS found that the NZSIS had no reasonable grounds for suspecting that any espionage had occurred and that the acquisition of two months of call associated data had therefore been unlawful".

An inquiry in 2020 confirmed that there had been civilian casualties and that officers in the New Zealand Defence Force had misled ministers and the public.

As part of its settlement, the NZSIS agreed to issue a public apology to Hager, who they said had "a reasonable expectation of privacy in his home telephone".

"NZSIS now accepts that it acted unlawfully in obtaining that data. Doing so breached Mr Hager's rights under ss 14 and 21 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990, and some of the Information Privacy Principles of the Privacy Act 1993," it read.

"Investigative journalists such as Mr Hager play an important role in society, including to provide an additional check on executive functions and powers. The role of Mr Hager is considerably more difficult given his subject matter of expertise and the difficulties of obtaining information which is protected by various and numerous confidentiality mechanisms. NZSIS recognises that its actions in 2012 could have resulted in a chilling effect on such important work.

"Accordingly, NZSIS apologises unreservedly for breaching Mr Hager's rights. Its conduct fell short of its own expectations. In recognition of this breach, NZSIS have agreed to pay compensation to Mr Hager and a contribution towards his legal fees."

'An important result for journalism'

Felix Geiringer, one of the barristers representing Hager, said today's settlement is "an important result for journalism".

"Our intelligence services are given substantial powers for use to protect New Zealand from harm. Those powers cannot be used to go after a journalist’s sources just because the Government does not like what that journalist is saying," he said.

Hager said today he was "pleased with the result", but "much more needs to be done to prevent unlawful actions by bodies such as the NZSIS".

"Our intelligence services repeatedly claim that they have become more transparent and more careful to obey the law. But when I requested information from the NZSIS director Rebecca Kitteridge about the suspected NZSIS help to find my sources, she refused to confirm or deny the existence or nonexistence of the information," he said.

NZSIS director Rebecca Kitteridge first apologised to Hager in 2019.