Concerns new spy bill will hold Kiwi ICT companies back

Telecommunications Users Association CEO Paul Brislen

Another spy bill making its way through Parliament is raising concerns for the future of the technology sector in New Zealand.

The Telecommunications Interception Capability and Security (TICS) Bill would, with a warrant, force telecommunications companies and online service providers like Google and Apple to give the GCSB access to users' private information.

Telcos would also have to consult with the GCSB when developing new products and services.

Telecommunications Users Association of New Zealand chief executive Paul Brislen told TV ONE's Q+A this morning that the bill could affect what international services are offered in New Zealand and may hold Kiwi companies back from making it internationally.

"The GCSB will have to advise telcos on how they build their network, which parts they add, what they remove, the structure of the network itself even presumably down to which vendors they use to build the network.

He described that consultation process as a "great concern".

"If we're out of step with most of the other places that are being innovative and developing new software products to sell overseas, New Zealand will once again miss out on the opportunities that that provides."

But Minister for Communications and Information Technology Amy Adams said Mr Brislen's fear for the New Zealand technology sector was based on misinformation that suggested the TICS bill provided a "back door" for the GCSB to gather information.

"If you're a network operator, you should consult with the GCSB on the design of critical parts of your infrastructure. It doesn't give the GCSB the right to veto it, it doesn't give them the right to control how the network runs, and interestingly, it doesn't apply at all to ICT companies who are service providers."

It would actually reduce the compliance cost on ICT companies, she said.

All the bill does is look at how police or other agencies, who have a warrant, work with the GCSB, Ms Adams said.

"This sort of implication that this is a great new power grab is simply wrong," she said.

"There is no back door, there is no ability for the GCSB to get extra information under this bill, there is no ability to access stored or historic data, it is

simply about real-time interception."

Real-time interception of communications is critical to solving "most, almost all" of the serious cases police deal with, she said, and as a result the bill is really about protecting New Zealanders from crime.

"And I think most New Zealanders accept there's a need for that."

Service providers already have a "duty to assist" police in their investigations under the current law, she said.

NZ's cyber security agency?
Mr Brislen and Green Party co-leader Russel Norman argued that the GCSB should not be the country's cyber security agency.

"I think the industry had a lot more faith in an arm's length industry... rather than giving a spy agency the role of oversight and management," Mr Brislen said.

Mr Norman agreed, saying that it would be difficult to look at what agencies working with the GCSB were doing.

"In terms of freedom, it's a slow moving thing. You're not going to notice tomorrow that you feel like you're more constrained."

He compared the legislation to the 1991 Building Act, saying that leaky houses didn't start appearing the next year, but ten years down the track.

"Likewise, once we give these powers to these agencies they'll grow in confidence over time and they'll start to access more and more of our data.

"Do we really want our cyber security agency to be the GCSB? Because it does have conflicts of interest."

Mega chief executive Vikram Kumar said internet users should assume that the Government is able to access everything they do on sites like Facebook, Gmail and Twitter whenever it likes.

"Assume that everything online is being recorded, stored and analysed, at least for maybe five to 10 years," he said.

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1 Comment & Question

Commenter icon key: Subscriber Verified

Today's laws cannot hope to cover tomorrow's infrastructure. How ignorant of past and recent history do politicians and law-writer's need to be to not see something as obvious as that?

Amy Adams posing as a IT network engineer/architect is just laughable. At least people with enough social intelligence have the dignity to step aside when their technical incompetence becomes embarrassing for the people beneath them.

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