Govt telecoms interception framework to be updated - GCSB a focus

Network operators will be obliged to engage with government over security, says ICT Minister Amy Adams

ICT Minister Amy Adams says planned changes to the law covering telecommunications interception do not invest government agencies with any extra authority to intercept phone and digital traffic. Rather the changes will affect only the framework in which telecommunications companies engage with the government, she says.

Under the new arrangements network operators will be “obliged to engage with the government on network security matters, and to inform the government of network decisions that may be of significant security interest,” says a briefing document from Adams’s office.

These requirements will be backed by a “graduated enforcement regime, with escalating responses available if significant national security risks were raised”. Computerworld is seeking further details of this proposed regime.

There are already penalties of up to $500,000 which can be imposed on telcos under the existing law for not complying with orders relating to interception.There are also additional penalties of $50,000 a day for “continued non-compliance”.

The Government Communications Security Bureau – with its powers set to be expanded, Parliament willing, to spy on New Zealand citizens and residents – will be the focal point for this engagement between telcos and government where matters under investigation “might affect New Zealand’s national security and economic well-being”, the briefing document says.

Telecommunications network operators are already required to have specialised interception equipment available under the Telecommunications (Interception Capability) Act 2004. The provisions of that Act were still gradually coming into force piecemeal up to April 2009, when interception capability for public data networks was made compulsory.

The equipment is used to provide technical assistance to the police and the country’s security and intelligence agencies to carry out interception warrants.

The provisions need updating again, Adams says, “to establish a more formal and transparent framework for network security. This is because technology is changing rapidly, reliance on the internet and on information communications technology is increasing and the structure of the telecommunications industry is becoming more complex, with a greater number of specialist providers, she says.

“The ability of government agencies to work effectively with telecommunications companies is a vital part of the Government’s role in protecting the country from crime and protecting our national security,” Adams says.

“For example, interception of telecommunications has long been used to investigate and prosecute serious offending such as homicides and serious drug crimes. It has also been used in emergencies such as armed offender situations or kidnappings, to combat threats to national security, and prosecute cybercrime, both domestically and internationally.”

When the Search and Surveillance Bill was going through Parliament, in 2009, Telecom raised doubts that sufficient safeguards were in place to ensure government agencies did not effectively perform surveillance under a search warrant by requiring telcos to repeatedly provide call information.

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