New Zealand narrowly passes domestic spying legislation

Filed Under: Featured, Privacy

New Zealand narrowly passes domestic spying legislationNew Zealand has passed new spying laws which allow its main intelligence agency to snoop on domestic citizens and residents.

Prior to the new legislation - the Telecommunications (Interception Capability and Security) bill, also known as TICS - the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) only had the authority to spy on those who had no right to reside in the country.

The government argued that the new bill was required in order to clarify and control the powers of the GCSB. This follows revelations that the agency had spied on Kim Dotcom last year in a US-led operation to close his Megaupload site amidst allegations of online piracy, racketeering, copyright infringement and money laundering.

Dotcom, who holds German and Finnish nationality, also has New Zealand residency and in March this year a court ruled that Dotcom could sue the GCSB for spying on him illegally.

The New Zealand Court of Appeals also concluded that the warrants issued for a January 2012 raid on his mansion were, "unreasonably broad because they failed to address that some items located during the search…would result in the police obtaining material irrelevant to the alleged offending."

Under the newly approved law, however, the GCSB now has the authority to spy on domestic citizens and residents in order to aid the police, military or security intelligence service, subject to lawful authorisation.

With the bill only being narrowly approved by a vote of 61 to 59, TICS comes into force with a level of controversy surrounding it. Prime Minister John Key tried to reassure residents:

This is not, and never will be, about wholesale spying on New Zealanders

There are threats our government needs to protect New Zealanders from, those threats are real and ever-present and we underestimate them at our peril.

Opposition to the new law comes in the form of legal advocates, technology giants and rights groups, as well as Kim Dotcom himself who told a protest group in Auckland that, "This will be the birth of a surveillance state in New Zealand."

Lawyer Rodney Harrison QC, said at a public meeting this week, "the Bill not only removes a prohibition on GCSB spying on New Zealanders, it also includes a definition of ‘infrastructure’ that embraces all forms of data systems, including content, and that it opens the door to broader use of surveillance by security agencies."

Large technology companies such as Microsoft, Facebook and Google have also voiced concerns about the increase in GCSB's surveillance powers.

In a submission to a parliamentary committee reviewing the bill, Facebook said, "Blanket rules requiring data retention and accessibility are blunt tools, which have the potential to infringe on civil liberties and constrain economic growth."

This new piece of surveillance legislation comes at a time when government spying is a hot topic across the world. Former government contractor Edward Snowden recently leaked information about mass US and UK surveillance programs to The Guardian newspaper.

The actions of Snowden, currently enjoying temporary asylum in Russia, have opened up debate about the balances between protecting national security while at the same time ensuring information privacy for citizens.

And with the US Director of National Intelligence this week revealing that the NSA had inadvertently hoovered up 56,000 emails per year from innocent members of the public while spying on potential terrorists, it's no wonder that this new piece of legislation is a cause for concern for New Zealanders.

Image of New Zealand courtesy of Shutterstock.

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6 Responses to New Zealand narrowly passes domestic spying legislation

  1. Joe D. · 342 days ago

    Encrypt everything always.

  2. Cliff Jones · 342 days ago

    How depressing.

    I saw the headline and assumed the bill prevented the spying. Oh well, apparently people everywhere don't have any say in their (alleged) "governance."

    I had assumed politics was irretrievably sold to the highest bidder only here in the US. My condolences to all you Kiwis who'd hoped reason would prevail.

    • Vito · 342 days ago

      Cliff: I can empathize with your disappointment. The good news is that many others like you are waking up to the fact that changing the people who operate such a broken system won't change the system itself, which has too much power. New people will just be corrupted by it.

      I think I can understand the politicians' desire for more control over "national security". But people like the Kiwi prime minister are the same as people everywhere, who judge themselves by their intentions and judge others by their actions. It's inconceivable to them that they could possibly be the bad guys, simply because their intentions tell them "We're the good guys."

      That's why it won't do any good to just change the people who operate the machinery of state. The machine itself is the problem. Real governance can only be provided by real government, not by a political state that can be sold to the highest bidder. That kind of crony corporatism doesn't govern any better in NZ than it does in the USA.

      • Cliff Jones · 338 days ago

        "But people like the Kiwi prime minister are the same as people everywhere, who judge themselves by their intentions and judge others by their actions. It's inconceivable to them that they could possibly be the bad guys, simply because their intentions tell them "We're the good guys.""

        That is an incredibly valuable insight, I never thought of the 'double standard' of people's judgment like that. I can see it applies generally, but really has consequences when the individual is in a position of power.

        Thanks, Vito. Now the question becomes how do you reach someone who is convinced that they can't be wrong.

        I agree with your conclusion, 'the system' is a self sustaining juggernaut with no respect for individualism. We need a lot more people coming to this realization before there's any hope of fixing things...

  3. Gavin · 342 days ago

    I'm absolutely astounded that got passed at a time like this.

    New Zealand is a member of the so-called "Five Eyes" group (with Australia, Canada, the UK and the US). Presumably this increase of data collection by New Zealand's GCSB also means increased sharing and mining of that same data by the other four 'intelligence partner' countries?

    Wow.

  4. Andrew · 342 days ago

    Just goes to show how governments only want to control the peoples of a country. I am sure it is a sad day for all in New Zealand.

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About the author

Lee Munson is the founder of Security FAQs, a social media manager with BH Consulting and a blogger with a huge passion for information security.