Fact sheet on Government plans for e-mail snooping and computer hacking on the public

What’s the Government doing?

The Government has introduced a Supplementary Order Paper 85 (SOP 85) to the Crimes Amendment Bill (No 6). The purpose of this bill is to increase state surveillance powers. It is a first step towards allowing massive interception of electronic communications by our security and intelligence organisations. The Law and Order Select Committee are currently examining the SOP, and will begin hearing public submissions soon. The Committee must report back to Parliament by May 31, 2001.

What does this SOP do?

  • Makes illegal both computer hacking and interception of electronic communications (emails, faxes and pager messages).
  • Allows the Police, Security Intelligence Service (SIS) and Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) to intercept electronic communications and hack into computers (subject to certain procedures and conditions). This means giving powers to intercept phone calls, faxes and emails through wide scale trawling of electronic communications. This would be the worst step towards a surveillance society that New Zealand has ever seen.

What has been the general response from the public?

Most people support hacking and interception being illegal, but there is significant concern in the community about giving the police, SIS and GCSB these powers.

What are the Government’s main arguments for giving these powers to police, SIS and GCSB?

  • That criminals communicate electronically, and these powers will enable them to catch more criminals.
  • That we are just extending to these agencies the powers they already have to open letters and tap telephones.

What are the arguments against giving these powers?

  • These powers are a major intrusion on people’s privacy, which outweighs the benefit of catching more criminals.
  • There is no proof that many more criminals will be caught.
  • Criminals can easily evade the system by using untraceable email addresses (eg hotmail addresses), encryption, words that hide their criminal intent, and re-routing systems that don’t go through normal internet service providers.
  • The police and intelligence service powers can be misused, as they have been in the past. The interceptions can be used by the authorities for economic spying or political spying on dissenters.
  • Computer technology is such that electronic interception can take place on a vastly greater scale than mail or telephone interception.
  • The ease with which serious criminals can evade being intercepted tends to lead to massive driftnet systems where millions of communications are trawled for “key words”, such as the FBI’s planned Carnivore system in the United States. This results in the interception of the communications of thousands people who innocently used those key words.
  • Because people receive emails from many people and organisations, the targetting of any one person or organisation will automatically mean that the emails of many innocent people and organisations will be intercepted.
  • Hacking into people’s computers will be a major intrusion of their privacy, because a variety of personal information is contained on their computer.
  • A major reason for this legislation being introduced is not whether New Zealand needs it, but pressure from US agencies like the FBI and National Security Agency for New Zealand to fall into line with them.
  • If the proposed legislation becomes law New Zealand Internet Service Providers would be at a competition disadvantage, as businesses move their virtual operation to a country free from the threat of economic spying.

How will the interception take place

The government won’t say, but says this will be determined in a later bill, amending the Telecommunications Act. How can we really know the implications of the SOP 85 if we don’t know the means the police and intelligence agencies will be authorised to use?

How adequate are the controls on the powers to intercept?

Police and the SIS have to obtain interception warrants. However, the warrants can be quite broad in their application and cover a class of people. The controls on police and SIS surveillance are far from adequate, as shown by the recent successful law suits by two dissenters, Aziz Choudry against the SIS, and David Small against the police.

The Government Communications Security Bureau is not restrained by warrant, or even comprehensive legislation governing its activities.

What are some of the benefits to our computer systems remaining surveillance-free?

  • The privacy of people and organisations.
  • Less restraint on dissenting views being exchanged via email and the internet.
  • More profitable e-commerce with less spying on firms and their customers. We should not undermine the “knowledge economy” with fears of electronic spying.
  • Not placing on internet service providers the burden of compliance costs in enabling police and intelligence agency to conduct the interception of messages.

What can I do?

Write to the Leaders of the political parties AND your local MP
Write to Rt Hon Helen Clark, Hon Richard Prebble, Hon Jenny Shipley, Hon Winston Peters, and Hon Jim Anderton. Urge them not to support this legislation. Note that the Alliance, National and ACT parties have already expressed doubts about the proposed legislation.

Writing to MPs via snail mail: Parliament Buildings, Wellington. No stamp required.

or email using format:

firstname [dot] lastname


parliament [dot] govt [dot] nz


Keith [dot] Locke


parliament [dot] govt [dot] nz


Write to the Law and Order Select Committee members
Write directly to the MPs on the Committee to let them know what you think about this proposed legislation. Members of the Committee members are Taito Phillip Field, Hon Parekura Horomia, Janet Mackey (Chairperson), Ron Mark, Brian Neeson, Jill Pettis, Simon Power, Hon Ken Shirley, Tony Steel and Hon Judith Tizard.

Help to get signatures on the petition against this legislation!
A petition against the SOP has been organised — help to get signatures on the petition and let other people know about the Government’s plans to invade your privacy! You can get copies of the petition from:

Green Party of Aotearoa New Zealand National Office

Ph 04 801 5102 or Fax 04 801 5104




greens [dot] org [dot] nz

Auckland Office

Ph 09 377 0149 or Fax 09 377 6413




xtra [dot] co [dot] nz