Kiwis Want To Spy On All Communications, VPNs, And Be Able To Use Secret Evidence Against You

from the no-justification-needed dept

Although New Zealand’s decision not to allow patents for programs “as such” was welcome, other moves there have been more problematic. For example, after it became clear that the New Zealand intelligence service, the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB), illegally wiretapped and spied on Kim Dotcom, the New Zealand government announced that it would change the law so as to make it legal in the future to snoop on New Zealanders as well as on foreigners. Judging by a major new bill that has been unveiled, that was just the start of a thoroughgoing plan to put in place the capability to spy on every New Zealander’s Internet activity at any moment.

Here’s an excellent analysis of what the bill proposes, from Thomas Beagle, co-founder of the New Zealand digital rights organization Tech Liberty:

The TICS [Telecommunications (Interception Capability and Security)] Bill is a replacement for the Telecommunications (Interception Capability) Act 2004. This law forced communications providers (ISPs, telcos, data networks, etc) to provide “lawful intercept” capabilities so that the Police, SIS and GCSB could access communications once they had a suitable warrant. The new bill expands and clarifies these requirements.

However, the addition of the word “security” is the key to what has changed. The new bill now gives the GCSB sweeping powers of oversight and control over the design, deployment and operation of all data and telecommunications networks run by network providers in New Zealand. The stated reasons are to both protect New Zealand’s infrastructure and to ensure that surveillance agencies can spy on traffic when required. As part of this, the GCSB will have the power to stop network providers from reselling overseas services that do not provide these capabilities.

As Beagle goes on to explain, this will have a number of implications, including a requirement to build backdoors into all telecoms networks:

From the Bill:

A network operator must ensure that every public telecommunications network that the operator owns, controls, or operates, and every telecommunications service that the operator provides in New Zealand, has full interception capability.

Note that the surveillance agencies still need to have a legally issued warrant (under the Search & Surveillance Act, NZ SIS Act, or GCSB Act) to actually intercept any communications and there are obligations to avoid capturing communications that are not covered by the warrant.

Here’s one way that could dramatically impact Internet users in New Zealand:

It then goes on to give the Minister the power to ban the resale of an off-shore telecommunications service in New Zealand if it does not provide interception capabilities. This could stop the resale of foreign-hosted VPNs, instant message services, email, etc.

Another clause could have major implications for Megaupload:

Network operators must decrypt the intercepted communications if they have provided the encryption, but there is no obligation to do so if the encryption is provided by others.

What does this mean for providers such as Mega (file locker) or LastPass (password storage) who have a business model based on the fact that they supply a cloud product that uses encryption but have deliberately designed it so that they can not decrypt the files themselves? This gives users the assurance that they can trust them with their data. Will the government close them down unless they provide a backdoor into the system?

One deeply troubling aspect is the following:

There is also a provision that allows the courts to receive classified information in a court case in the absence of the defendant or the defendant’s lawyer. This applies to information that might reveal details of the interception methods used by the surveillance agency or is about particular operations in relation to any of the functions of the surveillance agency, or is provided as secret information from the surveillance agencies of another country. It can also be used if that disclosure would prejudice security of NZ, prejudice the maintenance of law, or endanger the safety of any person.

As Beagle notes:

particularly offensive to civil liberties are the provisions for convicting people based on secret evidence. How can you defend yourself fairly when you can’t even find out the evidence presented against you?

He concludes with an important point:

One must ask where the justification for this expansion of power is coming from. Has New Zealand already been materially affected by attacks on our communications infrastructure? It seems clear that while the GCSB may not be that competent at exercising the powers they already have, they have done a fine job of convincing the government that they can handle a lot more.

That’s a question that needs to be put to the governments of other countries, like the US and UK, that are also seeking to extend massively their ability to spy on their own citizens. What evidence do they have that such extreme, liberty-threatening powers are actually necessary, and will make the public safer, rather than simply being a convenient way for governments to identify whistleblowers who expose their incompetence and corruption, say, or to spy on those who dare to oppose them?

Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and on Google+

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Comments on “Kiwis Want To Spy On All Communications, VPNs, And Be Able To Use Secret Evidence Against You”

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27 Comments
out_of_the_blue says:

Subtly plants the notion that Mega can be trusted:

“What does this mean for providers such as Mega (file locker) or LastPass (password storage) who have a business model based on the fact that they supply a cloud product that uses encryption but have deliberately designed it so that they can not decrypt the files themselves? This gives users the assurance that they can trust them with their data. Will the government close them down unless they provide a backdoor into the system?”

SEZ THEM! It’s FAR more likely that with the extradition threat, the NZ gov’t has ALREADY pressured Dotcom/Mega into installing the very backdoors that are denied here. Gov’ts never let a criminal case go to waste. You can’t rule honest people, and Dotcom is actually a criminal under common law. This would explain why Dotcom is being allowed to keep unearned millions and start up a new biz doing exactly same thing while extradition process still going. — It’s impossible to be too paranoid these days. The “illegally wiretapped” decision and case could just be cover for turning Dotcom into a spy. Here’s his choice: go to US for trial and almost certain jail, or stay here, start up new corporate front, and get millions from an out-of-court settlement for being wronged! No one in their right mind would choose to fight.

Now, I hope no will say that my conjecture just can’t be so. Only means that you think inside a small box. I’ve no proof of course, but neither do you. But it’s just plain foolish to trust Dotcom, a millionaire and known criminal under common law, and when the gov’t COULD pressure him TOO. Intelligence agencies have essentially unlimited money, so it’s ONLY a question of whether they wish to capture Mega.

Anonymous Coward says:

only one place this has come from and we all know where that is. just like every other democratic country, it is being coerced into removing as much privacy and freedom as possible from the public while adding as much surveillance as possible. if anyone believes it is for the ‘good of the country and citizens’ you deserve to lose as much of the above as possible. this is only being done, using the entertainment industries and the case against Dotcom as excuses. all governments are doing the same thing, under cover of what the entertainment industries are doing, so as to achieve all they want but get none of the blame! the world is on a collision course with out and out supervision, permission needed for everything and no questions asked with control being given to corporations that have ‘governments’ as nothing other than front men/women

0strikes VPN (user link) says:

NOT WANTED

Kiwis (Nzers) do not want this nor the bill that accompanies it.
Get this guys, the govt spy agency (GCSB) was caught ILLEGALLY spying on 88 NZers incl. Kim Dotcom and what does the government do?

Pat them on the back then decide to draft a law basically giving them free licence to spy on its own citizens without warrant and grant them a whole raft of new powers and be the oversight body for this TICS bill above.

Our current PM is definitely a 1%er 🙁

Anonymous Coward says:

Collapse

They figured that since the global economy is collapsing, they might as well go full rogue. If they’re going to become third world countries, they figured they better start acting like them.

This current ruling generation is a disgrace. The World War 2 heroes should rise from their graves (w-a-k-e-u-p), give them a hard spanking (r-e-v-o-l-t), and put them in time out (p-r-i-s-o-n).

Anonymous Coward says:

How could New Zealand enforce this upon VPN sevices that are not even in New Zealand?

I could see the US enforcing such a law, since a lot of the VPN services are operated from offices in the US

However, a US-based VPN service, which many of them are, are only subject to US laws, and a US based VPN service could tell the NZ government to take a long walk off a short pier, and there is nothing the NZ government could do about it.

Anonymous Coward says:

It then goes on to give the Minister the power to ban the resale of an off-shore telecommunications service in New Zealand if it does not provide interception capabilities. This could stop the resale of foreign-hosted VPNs, instant message services, email, etc.

Totally unenforcable. I run a small VPN service, though not a very big one, which I might start running a premium subscription version someday.

If I do that, I will only recognize US jurisdiction, as I am in the USA, and so are my servers. I will sell my service, if I decide to make a subscription service, to New Zelanders, and will totally ignore any ban the Minister puts on me. Since I would use PayPal for payments, the Minister will have no jurisdiction to stop that. And it the Minister does not like that, he can just go piss up a rope.

Graham Rogers (user link) says:

Security needs for whom?

Over the last few months, it has been interesting watch one then another of the Echelon countries pass these ideas around like some hot potato. Each time, the same arguments are brought forward: that increased security is needed for – criminals, terrorism, pornography, other. With wringing hands and a furrowed brow, the current politician repeats the reasons given by the forces hiding behind him or her. This time it is NZ, but over the last year or so (and more), Australia, Canada, UK and US have all had a go. Conspiracy theorists may have a point here.

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