Telecommunications (Interception Capability) Bill – Third Reading

The Green Party will be opposing the third reading of the Telecommunications (Interception Capability) Bill.

We have said all along that the capacity to intercept emails will catch a few more criminals, but the serious criminals will all be able to get round the interception systems by using anonymisers, encryption, code words, Internet cafes, hotmail addresses, throwaway cellphones, or whatever it might be; it is very easy. All the big fish, whether or not they are terrorists, will get round the systems.

However, millions of people will be affected because of the scale of the interception — even Waihopai intercepts millions of communications — and it will affect the privacy of many. As I said earlier, everyone has some very private aspects to their lives — be they personal, family, friends, sexual, or whatever — that they do not want intruded upon. We have so much on our computers and in our emails that is very private to us.

Also, large-scale electronic interception leads to a lot of mistakes. There have been plenty of examples of identity confusion in the big security scares in Europe involving bombs on planes. Recently a plane was stopped because of a 9-year-old kid on it, who clearly was not a terrorist. He just had a similar name to somebody on a huge database that presumably got out of control.

Another way mistakes are made is when people use email. They do it very quickly, using irony, saying the opposite of what they mean, and using extreme language. Things can easily get out of context. We can see that with intelligence agencies, even in the case of Ahmed Zaoui. The tape the Security Intelligence Service produced in evidence in that case is clearly just the tape of a tourist. He has himself on it. He did not mail if off to al-Qaeda. He brought it with him in luggage to New Zealand when he applied to Immigration under his own name, knowing he would be interrogated. I will lend it to any member who wants to look at it. Obviously, the Security Intelligence Service has got it completely wrong in describing that as a “casing” video. That indicates that people can get the context completely wrong, and that applies in the area of emails, likewise.

There are examples from around the world. There is one from the Communications Security Establishment in Canada in terms of interception. One Canadian was put on a database because of two emails that were intercepted. In one she referred to her son’s play, “Bombing”. The word “Bombing” was picked up in a keyword search. She used a similar word in another email, then she was put on a high-security database.

The way that this sort of mass interception operates and the way the results are recorded are very dangerous. We all receive hundreds and thousands of emails from people, and if we receive two emails from people who are believed to be suspicious people on a database, rightly or wrongly, then we could be put on a particular list. There is no real control over what use is made of those lists and who might have access to them, or over where they go around the world and over who uses them in the wrong context – using those errors, effectively against us, perhaps when we travel.

The consequences of these mistakes can be hugely inconvenient. I mentioned the case of the airline. A lot of inconvenience was caused to passengers when the airline got a person’s identity wrong. We can look at the example in Afghanistan last year, when the Americans claimed that a particular alleged terrorist or Taliban member was deemed to be in possession of a certain cellphone. So the Americans fixed the location of that cellphone when it was turned on, bombed the place, and killed nine kids. That was a very bad incident, and even the idea of bombing someone on suspicion that theymight be the person with that cellphone or email address or whatever is very dangerous, and it shows how out of control some of those agencies are in reality.

The point is in relation to crime fighting. It is actually quite inefficient and a wrong use of resources and a wrong set of priorities to concentrate on electronic intelligence to the extent that is happening in America, Australia, and now, it seems, New Zealand. The budget of the Government Communications Security Bureau, the electronic interception agency in New Zealand, is much greater than that of the Security Intelligence Service, and that is a waste because the idea that we can really get to the bad people just through this huge expenditure on electronic interception of cellphones, emails, or whatever is wrong.

We see examples of that day to day with the Americans themselves, who, presumably, in Iraq have electronic surveillance across the whole country. But can they actually track down the people who are letting off these bombs across the country? I have not seen much evidence that they have been able to. A reliance on electronic interception for crime fighting, rather than on people on the ground doing the hard yards in the traditional way, leads to a false sense of complacency, particularly when the agencies doing this are largely unaccountable and have political biases — that is the problem.

Behind these walls of secrecy there are political biases, which have been disclosed in some of the debate that has taken place in America, Britain, and Australia today. There have been cases recently, such as when Colin Powell went to the United Nations before the Iraq war and had all those pictures of ‘mobile biological warfare labs’ and everything else. Even though Hans Blix and others were saying at the time that it was all wrong, they went ahead with it. Now it has been proved that it was all fictional and that there was no proper checking. It was creative intelligence for a political purpose, and that is what is happening today.

Unfortunately, New Zealand, is following along with this legislation — under the impetus of pressure from the United States, Australia, and Britain — being an intelligence dependency and getting it wrong. I think this has come out in the Ahmed Zaoui case. It came out in the court judgment yesterday, too, in a quote from the director of the Security Intelligence Service, where clearly the Security Intelligence Service was most worried about getting offside with these overseas intelligence agencies. Accuracy or the rights of Ahmed Zaoui come second to that. The quote from the Security Intelligence Service in the court decision yesterday was: “If Mr Zaoui, with his public record, were allowed to settle here, that would indicate that New Zealand has a lower level of concern about security than other like-minded countries. That would impact adversely on New Zealand’s reputation with such countries, and thus on New Zealand’s international well-being.” The fact that Ahmed Zaoui has been framed in overseas countries and those lies have been circulated by overseas intelligence agencies is secondary to the consideration, whereas the Refugee Status Appeals Authority actually analysed all that evidence, provided now by the Security Intelligence Service, and showed those cases to be frame-ups.

So that is the problem we can get into when we get into this area of dependency on overseas intelligence agencies. The material is all classified, and it is circle of secrecy. Every country says: “We won’t give you information unless you keep it absolutely secret” so the public of those countries, including New Zealand, cannot even find out what is going on.

We saw a case of that recently when I asked the Prime Minister whether media reports that New Zealand had received transcripts of interceptions of conversations of UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan were true. We were told that it is all secret and we could not be told. There is a problem, too, of this interception authorisation being extended in two bad ways. At the present time, it is just origin and destination numbers of one particular person that interception is to be focused on, but we could quite easily get into a system like the American Carnivore system, or extend what happens at Waihopai, where a combination of key words is put into the system, and a lot of people get caught in that net.

The other dangerous proposal that is coming up — and it has come up in Europe; there were references in the


last October — is the demand that records of all the emails and phone calls be stored by the telecommunications agencies and Internet service providers for a year so that the agencies can look back over a whole year of people’s private lives, as reflected in those records.

I think we must vote against this bill. It is an intrusion on our privacy. It is giving extra and unwarranted powers to intelligence agencies that have been found wanting, and we do not need it in our situation. We are not seriously subject to terrorist threats. We have not seen those incidents, other than that carried out by the French intelligence agency in 1985 and that of the bombing of Trades Hall in 1984, and I do not think it is envisaged that these powers would result in the interception of French intelligence communications.


Third Reading, Parliament