by Steffan Browning
It’s not often that the list of submitters to a bill in NZ includes names like Google, Facebook and Microsoft. But they were amongst the 94 submissions that we considered at the select committee on the TICS bill. And they were among the submitters who had real concerns about this piece of legislation.
As I blogged yesterday, the TICS bill is the companion bill to the GCSB bill. Andrea Vance, in a great piece from today’s Dominion Post, introduced the bill as the little brother to the GCSB ‘big brother’.
So, what exactly is it about the bill that has upset the internet giants…
One of the things that this bill does is allow the Minister to sign a ‘ministerial direction’ to make service providers (i.e. Facebook, or Google who provide us with ‘Chat’ and Microsoft who provide us with ‘Skype’) to be accessible to NZ’s surveillance agencies – the GCSB, SIS, and the Police.
What this means in practice is that if the GCSB get a warrant (and let’s remember that their powers have been dramatically extended with the GCSB bill) and puts in a request, the Minister can force Facebook or Google to give the GCSB access to your real-time communications.
This is a dramatic change from the current law, which only requires traditional network operators (like Telecom or Vodafone) to have interception capability, and it puts a huge amount of power into the hands of one Minister.
Microsoft, Facebook and Google all raised concern about the level of power being given to a Minister and argued that these types of decisions should be made openly by Parliament.
From Microsoft’s submission:
“The bill could lead to dramatic extensions to the scope of surveillance agency oversight without Parliamentary oversight…will allow executive Ministerial decisions without any direct public or Parliamentary oversight to extend the scope of organisations that are required to be intercept ready or intercept accessible. That has the potential to widen the scope and of surveillance agency access and oversight over New Zealand citizens.”
Facebook also emphasised the importance of the principle that any changes to this law need to be careful to balance user privacy and national security.
While I’m not naïve enough to think that there’s not self-interest at play here in their opposition to this bill – I mean, these are some of the biggest companies in the world – it is encouraging to see them coming out fighting for transparency and the right of the public to know what’s going on.
Another area that all three raised issue with was the impact this bill could have on the New Zealand public’s access to services.
From Google’s submission:
“The significant additional costs, time and challenges imposed by the Bill may discourage both local and international entities from making new service offerings in NZ. It could also lead to existing providers exiting the NZ market or reducing their offerings…all of which would ultimately be to the detriment of New Zealand end-users and the New Zealand economy.”
When Microsoft appeared before the select committee, their spokesperson said that the existing legislation had already caused network operators in NZ not to offer services that would have been beneficial, and that this bill could further stifle innovation. This means that NZers will be missing out.
It also means that this bill poses huge risks to our own IT sector. And that’s what I’ll be writing about tomorrow – the chilling effect the TICS bill will have on innovation and business development in NZ.