This bill is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. The Minister put stress on the bill as an anti-hacking measure and anti-interception measure and, of course, we support any bill opposed to hacking or interception. In fact, we asked the Minister to put such provisions in a separate Supplementary Order Paper. But those few clauses against hacking and interception amount to about only one page of this 12-page bill. The rest of the clauses are a major assault on our privacy.
They give the police, the Security Intelligence Service, and the Government Communications Security Bureau the right to hack into our computers and intercept our emails, faxes and pager messages. Mr Swain said this measure will enable agencies to catch criminals. No one is disputing that we might be able to catch a few more criminals through such interception. Surveillance cameras placed on every street in the country might catch more criminals, but we always have to ask ourselves what is the cost to our privacy.
Do we really want to live in a surveillance society? Electronic interception is not just a question of modernising police and security agencies’ powers beyond their present letter opening and telephone tapping, as has been made out. Computer interception is a whole different ball game. For example, the Carnivore system that the FBI uses allows for key-word searches through vast amounts of email. In Britain they have a system called RIP – very appropriate – where a kind of black box is attached to the servers of internet providers with the traffic being routed through to M15. There are several problems.
The first problem is that the emails of many ordinary people will be intercepted by the system just because they accidentally use the wrong key word and their messages will be scrutinised. This has already happened with the Echelon system of which the Waihopai station near Blenheim is a part. Here emails and faxes passing through a specific satellite are intercepted through key-word searches.
Under this SOP the Government Communications Security Bureau, which runs Waihopai, will be allowed to increase its power, including surveillance within New Zealand and not just through that specific satellite. Supposedly, the Government Communications Security Bureau is allowed to spy only on foreigners – foreign people and foreign organisations. According to this Supplementary Order Paper though, if we look at the definition, organisations like Greenpeace or an international trade union federation would fit under this definition of a target.
People can say, “Well, dissenters aren’t a target”, but in New Zealand they already have been. The Security Intelligence Service did target anti-free trade activist Aziz Choudry, and the Christchurch police did recently target one of his colleagues, David Small. Both men later won compensation claims in the court against that surveillance. Internationally, the Echelon electronic interception system has been used to spy on Greenpeace.
Even the National Party should be worried about this legislation. National has a problem of its own reports to caucus going astray and getting into the Government’s hands. Under this bill they will have to watch not only who leaves Bill English’s memos on a Beehive café table but what is on Bill English’s computer because we have already found police abusing their powers when it comes to computers.
Just this week the Police Complaints Authority reported on a policeman who accessed a police database for his own purposes – that is, to track down a tenant who owed him rent. Paul Swain talked about this being somehow compatible with e-commerce. In fact, the Echelon system has been criticised, most recently by an official French parliamentary inquiry, for being used for economic espionage against France by the United States and British multinationals. So this measure will undermine e-commerce and the trust that is necessary for that form of commerce. We also know that the police do sometimes bow to the Government’s will against the dissenters as they did when they moved on pro-Tibet protesters when the Chinese premier visited New Zealand last year. There is great concern about this bill in the internet community and they do not see there is any need for these measures. They are rightly worried about police and security agency surveillance because the internet is a hotbed of dissenting voices – free thinkers challenging orthodoxy, challenging Governments, and challenging the misuse of power. These cyber citizens say: “Leave us alone. We’re not criminals and you won’t be able to use this system to effectively catch criminals. The people who will be caught will be us”. The people who are operating “cyberspace, often with dissenting voices, want to be left alone.
Criminals can easily avoid this sort of interception. They can use code words, they can use encryption devices, they can use temporary hotmail addresses, they can use re-routers, and they can use unlisted mobile phones. Any criminal worth his salt will get around this system. The people who will be caught will be ordinary people. Earlier this year the New Zealand Press Association was told by Detective Sergeant Cam Stokes that he knew of no instances when a crime has been plotted using email and said that criminals would be cautious about what they said online.
This bill is not driven by a real need to catch more criminals. It is driven by us listening particularly to the FBI, the British spooks, and our Aussie cousins who are telling the police and security agencies what they are doing and that we should do it too. It is also a problem that the “how” involved in this bill is not being discussed along with it. The “how”, that is the methods that will be used to actually do this interception will be contained in amendments to the Telecommunications Act which will not come in until after this bill has been passed. Until people can discuss the “how” question, the use of the Carnivore system or the Regulation of Investigatory Powers (RIP) system, or whatever the New Zealand agencies are considering, one cannot really understand the danger to privacy involved. So by dividing this discussion into two, one now, and one later next year, we will not have proper democratic discussion.
This bill involves a serious expansion of police and security agency power. It is a real threat to all New Zealanders. It is not needed. The Green Party is against it. The Green Party will be campaigning on this issue. The New Zealand Herald announced this morning that a poll is being conducted on whether people want their emails intercepted. There is a hot bed of communication around the internet today complaining about this measure. It is not needed. The Government must prove a case. If the Government wants to extend powers like this, and intrude on people’s privacy, it has to advance a case. Where is the case that criminals are using these means to any significant extent that requires such draconian legislation that will so interfere with our privacy? We do not think it is needed.
The Green Party will be opposing this bill. We are disappointed the Government did not exceed to our request to do two things – firstly to divide the Supplementary Order Paper to separate the anti-hacking and the anti-interception element of it, that we wholeheartedly support, which increases our privacy. The Government should have separated those issues out from the other provision that seriously undermines our privacy – that is giving extra powers to the agencies.
Secondly, the Government should have postponed any discussion of these extra interception powers until it has brought in the Telecommunications Amendment Act so that we know exactly how the police and the security services intend to go about their business in this way.
I hope the other parties in this House will support the Greens position. This is not just a Green Party issue. It goes right across the whole community – one can sense that. If one inhabits cyberspace at all, one can see that it is coming from people of different persuasions who do not want their privacy intruded on in this way without any good reason, and the Government has not given a good reason yet.