New disclosures heat surveillance law row

New disclosures heat surveillance law row

Summary: Revelations about secret orders requiring 'backdoors' into online services fuel protests in New Zealand.


Fresh disclosures about new surveillance laws in New Zealand have served to fuel a nationwide round of protests that kicked off over the weekend with a rally outside the home of Prime Minister John Key.

Vikram Kumar, the chief executive of Kim Dotcom's Mega "privacy company", which is developing a new secure email service, revealed new details about planned surveillance laws ahead of a scheduled Town Hall protest in Auckland.

Protestors filled the Town Hall to hear a series of opponents to new and expanded spy powers. They included Kim Dotcom, unionists, indigenous rights activists, lawyers, and politicians.

Kim Dotcom
Kim Dotcom warns protest meeting of the extent of state surveillance powers.

Kumar said that when the Telecommunications (Interception Capability and Security) Bill ("TICS Bill") becomes law, the New Zealand government plans to issue secret orders to force non-telco service providers, such as email, chat, and online voice services, to create interception capability for surveillance.

Kumar posted documents on Scribd that he said show such that ministerial directives will be used to "secretly impose an obligation to create interception capabilities by individually named service providers (referred to as 'deem-in' but what I call a backdoor) 'so as not to publicly announce a lack of capability in a particular service'".

"This has been approved by Cabinet, and is therefore official government policy," Kumar wrote on the National Business Review website.

"What's not clear is if the mechanism of a ministerial directive will also be used to gag the service provider? Or is the secrecy merely a guise to allow compliant service providers to pretend they haven't been forced to create a backdoor for the government?"

Protest actions focus on two pieces of legislation, the TICS Bill and a Government Communications Services Bureau Bill, both of which opponents fear will expand intelligence surveillance powers to legitimate internal political activism, away from foreign threats, and undermine the integrity and privacy of online communications.

"The government is therefore going to be using secret orders to specific service providers directing the creation of interception capability, allowing real-time access by surveillance agencies," Kumar wrote.

Officials defended the measures, saying confidentiality that they are necessary, and protections are in place for companies required to provide assistance to the GCSB.

John Key has also defended the law changes, saying he would resign if GCSB undertook mass surveillance.

At the Auckland protest, lawyer Rodney Harrison QC outlined the extensions of power in the Bill, which removes a prohibition on GCSB that prevents it from spying on New Zealanders. It also, he said, includes a definition of infrastructure that embraces all forms of data systems, including content.

Town Hall protest
A full house at the Auckland Town Hall.

Harrison said that surveillance under the new law is not restricted to targeted intercepts, as access authorisations can apply to infrastructure classes as well as individuals.

"John Key may care about the kind of economy he leaves behind," Harrison said, "But he does not care what kind of society he leaves behind."

Best estimates are that the GCSB Bill has a majority of one in parliament, and ironically, that one is an MP called Peter Dunne who was himself a victim of spying.

Kim Dotcom told the full house that he first discovered he was being spied on when his internet connection slowed by 20 or 30 milliseconds.

"As a competitive gamer, I noticed," he said to laughter.

Dotcom promised that his upcoming extradition case, following the closure of his Mega Upload file storage service and police raids on his mansion, would function as an independent enquiry into how surveillance has been conducted.

Kumar's revelation appears to echo disclosures by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden about interception in the US, the UK, and elsewhere that ignited a round of concern among digital freedom activists, civil libertarians, business media, and software and online service providers.

New Zealand, along with the United States, Canada, Australia, and the UK, is a member of the "Five Eyes" surveillance alliance of English-speaking countries. Snowden's revelations about the PRISM and X-Keyscore internet surveillance system, for instance, indicated that servers are based at one site in New Zealand and four in Australia.

The Waihopai spy base in the South Island of New Zealand has previously been the focus of attacks, and was damaged by protesters in 2008.

Dotcom told the Town Hall crowd that his data ended up in PRISM, able to be accessed by Five Eyes members through X-Keyscore, which he described as "Google for spies".

"GCSB is part of it and it has access to the data of every New Zealander," he said. "There is absolutely no doubt about that."

Others expressed their concerns online.

"This goes a long way past 'making sure the data can be handed over to the authorities', which we're still unhappy with, and goes a long way out of my comfort zone, especially given the way international intelligence agencies are using their powers around the world," wrote Telecommunications Users' Association chief executive Paul Brislen in a blog post.

As seen elsewhere around the world, IT industry advocates suggested that there could be a commercial cost, and that the development of cloud computing could be a victim of such mass surveillance powers and capability.

(Thumbnail image: Shutz)

Topics: Government Asia, Networking, Security, New Zealand

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  • The only way to make this a useless interception method

    Do away with the use of network address translation.

    After that, Email would work the way it should - directly from the users mail server (running on his own machine), to the target recipient also running the recipients mail server... and use end-to-end encryption.

    The only information that leaks is two machines set up an encrypted channel. Nothing about WHAT was communicated, and if using IPSecurity tunnels from end to end, then not even that it was an email service would be possible to identify.
    • ...what?

      There are a lot of problems with ensuring email privacy. NAT is not one of them.
  • The Committee of 300 is the world government! - Dr John Coleman

    Who and what is The Committee of 300? - They are a 'Super National' body that knows no boundaries, respect the laws of no countries.They are a committee of 300 men who rule the world they're known only to each other and nothing happens without their consent.

    The Royal Institute of International Affairs (Chatham House, London), is the executive arm of the Committee of 300 which gives instructions to the United States government to this very day, the chain of command is as follows - every secretary of state as had been appointed since 1919 is appointed by the Royal Institute of International Affairs. Americans think that they vote to put a conservative in the White House and then he appoints, supposedly or allegedly, conservative people who carry out the policies that they wanted him to implement, (...find a conservative secretary of state since 1919 and if you search diligently and apply the correct rule you will come up blank) ...every one of the secretary of state was chosen in London by the R.I.I.A , as was President Wilson, as was Roosevelt, as was James Earl Carter, so too William Jefferson Clinton. - Dr John Coleman

    So the R.I.I.A - the Royal Institute of International Affairs does control everything that happens in the United States. They give their orders to the Morgan Guarantee & Trust Bank on Wall Street. The chief executor of that organization is Dennis Weatherstone and he duly relays the order over to the Secretary of the State, whoever that happens to be, and he then relays the order to the President. There was one exception to this and that was during the illegal 100% unconstitutional 'Gulf War' illustrate the power that the Royal Institute of International Affairs exercises over the affairs of the United States of America. When George Bush was hesitating and didn't know whether he should get into the Gulf or not the Prime Minister of Britain Mrs Margaret Thatcher came over to the Committee of 300's headquarters at the Aspen Institute of Colorado and this is the phone call she had with George Bush, she said "George this is Margaret, get your ass up here I've got some orders for you about the Gulf war!" And Bush went scurrying up there like a little messenger boy and the next thing we know there was this massive out pouring of propaganda to start a war against the nation of Iraq and a nation that had NEVER done this country one iota of harm. I use those illustration in order to give you the extent of the control exercised by this Committee of 300. - Dr John Coleman

    "...they are people who introduced population control and built wide variety of devices to keep control of everything that's happening (world-wide). Now you can say that this is like a huge corporation where you have the CEO at the head, you have these staff consisting of the Senior Managers, then you have the lower echelon of managers, then you have the subscribers shareholders, and that's basically what this organization is like. It is a world-wide control body with enormous powers because it invited in every government on the planet. There's not a single government...maybe, maybe with the exception of China and that of Russia since the demise of their previous president and with the coming of Putin, of course things changed in Russia and this gives you some idea of the breadth and the depth and reach of this organization." - Dr John Coleman

    [Is NZ the lower echelon of managers or the subscription shareholders?] ask John Keys, or is that a secret?
    Phyl M
  • ICELAND's Way Of Doing Things Looks Way More Better !

    Their people are FREE from all limitations of global government rule. We need to do what they did to get our freedom back!
    Phyl M
    • while remembering...

      ... that the Icelandic government is attempting to ban/filter/block all forms of pornography...