What is a national security clearance?
Anyone with access to classified information requires a clearance at or higher than the level at which the information is classified. For this reason, security clearances are required for a wide range of jobs, from senior management to new recruits.
It is essential to ensure that information important to New Zealand's national interests or security (official information) is protected from unauthorised access. A security clearance gives some assurance around the suitability of a person to access official information at a level corresponding to the level of security clearance held.
The 3 levels of security clearance are:
- top secret.
Holding a clearance does not give access to all official information. You must still have a legitimate need to access information. This is known as the 'need to know' principle.
Who needs a security clearance?
Employees who need regular access to classified information or who are required in their role to access classified systems will need a national security clearance at the required level. This will be specifically stated in the position description as well as in the initial job advertisement.
New Zealand Government policies require all government agencies to ensure that people entrusted with official information and resources:
- are eligible and suitable to have access
- have had their identity established
- are able to comply with the standards that safeguard information and resources.
Government departments and agencies determine suitability to access official information through an assessment of an individual's background, consisting of (but not limited to):
- records checks and enquiries, carried out as part of pre-employment checks
- a formal vetting process conducted by the New Zealand Security Intelligence Service (NZSIS) to assess an individual’s honesty, trustworthiness, loyalty, and their appreciation of security responsibilities and obligations.
Are you eligible for a security clearance?
To be eligible for a security clearance, applicants must be legally entitled to work in New Zealand and be able to obtain and maintain the required level of New Zealand Government security clearance for the position applied for.
The minimum citizenship and residency criteria for security clearances to be granted by MPI are as follows:
Confidential Security Clearance
- Most preferably a New Zealand citizen, who has resided in this country continuously for at least the last 5 years, or
- is a citizen of, and/or has resided continuously in 1 or more of the following countries for the last 5 years – either Australia, Canada, NZ, the United Kingdom (UK), or the United States of America (USA) – and has a background history that is verifiable and can be assessed as appropriate by NZSIS towards a recommendation of suitability for a security clearance at this level.
Secret or Top Secret Security Clearance
- Most preferably a New Zealand citizen who has resided continuously in this country for the last 10 years
- is a citizen of, and/or has resided continuously in one or more of the following countries for the last 10 years – either Australia, Canada, NZ, UK or the USA – and has a background history that is verifiable and can be assessed as appropriate by the NZSIS towards a recommendation of suitability for a security clearance at a higher level.
For a Secret and Top Secret vetting application, you will be required to put forward 4 referees in support of your application.
How to get a security clearance
The information in your application will be confirmed by checks on:
- your qualifications and identity
- any criminal history
- your credit history.
You will be asked to complete a number of vetting forms online, including a 'Consent for Disclosure Questionnaire'. This allows the NZSIS to carry out checks against criminal and security intelligence databases and undertake referee and background checks as necessary.
When enquiries are complete, the NZSIS provides a formal assessment to the Departmental Security Officer (DSO) of MPI on your suitability to hold a security clearance. The DSO then decides whether to grant a clearance based on the pre-employment checks, the assessment from the NZSIS, and any other relevant information it may hold.
Current clearances may be able to be transferred between organisations in some circumstances.
NZSIS exemptions from legislation
The NZSIS has an exemption under legislation to gather information that may be protected and to make recommendations that may otherwise breach the law. Such legislation includes, but is not limited to:
- The Privacy Act
- The Official Information Act
- The Human Rights Act
- The Criminal Records (Clean Slate) Act.
Sometimes the NZSIS will return a qualified assessment. This is most common where an individual has strong ties to another country. A qualified assessment may prevent you from working in some roles at MPI.
Information from the NZSIS
If there is a problem regarding your application for a clearance, MPI will attempt to work through it with you if possible.
The NZSIS provides information that relates to clearances to MPI on a strictly confidential basis. This may mean that MPI is unable to provide you with the reasons that have led to the failure to grant a security clearance. Section 29(b) of the Privacy Act allows MPI to withhold information that amounts to evaluative material when doing so would breach an implied or express promise that the information would be held in confidence.
You are entitled to complain to the Privacy Commissioner if this occurs to ask for a review of MPI's decision to withhold information. You can also make a request for personal information directly to the NZSIS.
Why might a clearance be denied or delayed?
Reasons why a clearance might be denied include:
- incorrect, incomplete, or dishonest answers
- potential for conflicts of interest or loyalty
- evidence of dishonest or illegal behaviour
- susceptibility to pressure or influence.
When security clearance is not given
If you are unsuccessful in getting the required level of security clearance for the role, then you may not be able to start the job. If you have already started in the role, then you may not be able to continue your employment.
Failure to obtain a clearance is not a negative reflection on your character or reputation. Rather it is an assessment that there may be circumstances that could present risks to the protection of official material.
Any doubt about an individual's ability to access official material must be resolved conservatively to protect official information and our national interest.
A clearance might not be granted if vetting enquiries can't be completed. The most common reasons for this occurring are:
- residence outside New Zealand, Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom, or the United States for a period of 5 to 10 years before application for a clearance
- a lack of response from referees provided in your application.
The reasons above can also lead to enquiries being delayed. MPI has no influence over vetting times – you can ensure a quicker vetting by ensuring referees cooperate and by advising MPI of changes to the details in your form.
What to do if you think a clearance was unfairly denied
New Zealand citizens or residents who feel they have been adversely affected by any act, omission, practice, policy, or procedure of the NZSIS are able to complain to the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security. Complaints can include matters relating to the conduct of and reports concerning security clearance vetting.
The Inspector-General can inquire into any complaint and may make recommendations for redress.
Complaints to the Inspector-General should be made in writing, addressed to the Inspector-General, care of the Registrar of the High Court in Wellington.
On-going management and compliance
Assessment as to your suitability to access official information continues after a clearance is granted.
As ongoing maintenance of their clearance status, employees are required to notify MPI of any changes in their personal circumstances, including:
- financial – significant changes in your financial circumstances, for example, bankruptcy
- domestic changes, for example, changes of partner or flatmates, marriage details, or address
- intended overseas travel
- if you take up alternative employment.
Your clearance will be reviewed 5 years from when it was granted and you will be required to undergo another vetting, unless circumstances require an earlier review. If you leave MPI, your clearance will be considered to have lapsed.
Who to contact
If you have questions, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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