by Steffan Browning
Today I want to bring it back to what this bill means for you, me, and the rest of New Zealand – what it means for our privacy and our rights.
One of the main purposes of the bill is to ensure that network operators (bodies who provide the public with a telecommunications or data network – like your internet, phone, email services) have ‘full interception capability’. What this means in practice is that telecommunications firms will be required to assist the GCSB, SIS or police in intercepting and decrypting phone calls, texts and emails.
What’s important to know is that this in itself isn’t new. Under the current legislation, intelligence agencies are already able to carry out this interception with a warrant.
And I think that’s ok – it’s practical and important for the government to have interception capabilities on telecommunications in cases of serious criminality although only when there is robust oversight and control.
But we know from the GCSB experience that there is not robust oversight over this sort of activity in New Zealand. This bill is also widening the catch of what types of providers need to be ‘intercept ready’ or ‘intercept capable’, and is granting new powers to the Minister and the GCSB.
What’s more, now the GCSB bill has passed, the GCSB has greater scope to spy on New Zealanders. It has made the illegal legal. And the TICS bill is the technical mechanism to allow these changes to happen. Without it, some of the spying powers granted to the GCSB can’t be implemented.
The security agencies will need a warrant to take make these interceptions, but again as we learnt from the GCSB, the are huge issues with this. Very little is known about the warrants, and there is no requirement for the public to be told how many interception requests were made.
The Green Party is staunch on this – the public has a right to understand how and when we could be surveilled, but that won’t be happening under this bill.
When this bill was first introduced, I had a look at former Green MP Keith Locke’s speeches when the original Act was first up in Parliament. It was back in 2003, and it’s pretty interesting to see where we’ve ended up:
“it could be that once all systems here are ‘interception capable’ the police and security agencies will ask for more powers. We may be on a slippery slope towards even greater surveillance of our personal communication” and “We live in a world where there are too many moves and the American Government is egging us on, down the road to a surveillance society, and we should not go further down that road without good reason and without good controls”
Given the bigger picture to all of what is happening now – what we’re seeing overseas with Prism and the Snowden leaks – Keith’s comments are pretty interesting. That’s the side of this that I’ll be looking into tomorrow – where the TICS bill fits within the wider context of global surveillance.