Little reprieve for telcos in select committee report on intercept bill
Parliament's law and order select committee has given the country's telecommunications companies little cheer in its report back on legislation setting out their obligations to provide government surveillance agencies access to their networks.
The report on the Telecommunications (Interception Capability and Security) Bill has kept the proposed law largely intact, offering telecommunications companies some concessions around what will be expected of them and how the minister will interact with them, but hasn't set out their desired timeframes in dealing with the Government Communications Security Bureau, nor offered a sweetener on cost-sharing.
Telecom Corp, Vodafone New Zealand and Chorus were all concerned about the greater role being granted to the GCSB, and wanted strict timeframes imposed on the domestic-focused spy agency to ensure delays were minimised and investment protected.
The law and order committee, chaired by National MP Jacqui Dean, recommended a clause to allow the GCSB director to issue guidelines on requirements applying to network operators, and to narrow down what firms need to report in relation to potential security risks.
The committee also recommended requiring the GCSB director or minister to consider "the likelihood of a particular decision compromising or degrading the telecommunications network, and any potential flow-on effects" when making a decision on network security.
The bill aims to set out the obligations on telecommunications companies to offer interception capabilities on their networks to surveillance units, including the GCSB, Security Intelligence Service and police, and oblige them to engage with those agencies about potential risks to the country's national security when building and running their networks.
The committee narrowed the definition of what constituted a security risk, deleting the reference to "economic well-being" as being too broad.
The report didn't make any recommendations on who bears the cost, keeping the initial provisions that the network operator will wear the bill for developing, installing and maintaining interception capability. A surveillance agency would pay actual and reasonable costs incurred by a network operator who assists the government entity holding an interception warrant.
The public version of the regulatory impact statement didn't quantify the cost to network operators, which telecommunications companies submitted would be a significant burden into the millions of dollars. Enable Networks, which won the Christchurch portion of the government's national fibre roll-out, estimated the cost of the law would be in excess of $50 million.
In a minority report, the Labour Party said the committee didn't' seek advice on supplementary submission outlining the extra cost, and said "the government has little incentive to consider the financial impact on the impacted service provider."
The Labour and Green parties opposed the bill, while New Zealand First said it would support revised legislation that was split in two, but couldn't support it as it stands.