TVNZ7 internet debate fails to catch fire

NZ panellists unCERTain about emergency response need

Opposition ICT spokesperson Clare Curran MP has called for a New Zealand Computer Emergency Response Team (NZCERT) as a computer equivalent of civil defence and emergency management functions in the physical world.

Curran made her plea from the audience at this year’s annual internet debate on the TVNZ7 television channel. However, in common with other potential seeds of serious debate in the evening, it was short-lived. Like attendees at a pre-event workshop, panellists at the live event said they considered the existing Australian and US CERTs offered a good enough service in identifying and responding to threats, and our small population would probably make an NZCERT uneconomic.

The TVNZ7 debate has been praised by its audience as a worthy technical achievement, with simultaneous webcasts on TVNZ7 and InternetNZ sites and multiple online channels open for discussion and comment; but many saw the content as disappointingly uncontroversial.

The debate, organised by InternetNZ and internet safety organisation NetSafe in collaboration with TVNZ7, attempted in an hour to cover a range of topics from internet filtering to the gathering of personal data through social networking and the use of incautiously revealed information and images by potential employers as a character reference.

Compere Damian Christie kept things moving along with a partial rotation of panel members for each topic, but this brought disappointment from online commentators at a lack of depth.

Even the inclusion of Bob McCoskrie of the conservative Family First lobby in a discussion of the dangers to children online failed to generate any friction. McCoskrie offered moderate and well-canvassed advice such as keeping computers in the family room.

One panellist suggested exposure to a high volume of deceptive internet content made children aware of scams at an early age and so perhaps has its positive side.

InternetNZ CEO Vikram Kumar, opposing centralised internet filtering, suggested the weakness of the Internal Affairs censorship filter is that it is “set up under an administrative procedure, rather than a legal framework, so the ability of the government of the day to change its scope is actually quite real”. This mildly controversial note was countered by filter vendor Peter Mancer pointing out that the filter is voluntary and any ISP can pull out if it thinks the filter is excluding the wrong sites or reducing internet efficiency. An independent oversight committee set up over the filter provides a further safeguard, he said.

At both the preliminary workshop and the TV event, the topical question of penalties for illegal downloading of copyright works was conspicuous by its absence.

“Not a debate, more a chitchat over a cuppa”, one Twitter observer summed up.

Another, in the wake of a remark about incautiously telling a social network audience you are about to retire for the night, tweeted: “Damian: know when your friends are going to sleep? 20 mins ago from this dull debate.”

The debate can be viewed online here.

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