Bring us the bills, demands IT industry

New Zealand's IT sector is hopeful of a speedy passage of e-legislation once the election is out of the way and a new government formed.

New Zealand’s IT sector is hopeful of a speedy passage of e-legislation once the election is out of the way and a new government formed.

The Electronic Transactions Bill (ETB) and the controversial Crimes Amendment Bill (CAB) have been on the government’s to-do list all year but were put on hold for the election, along with much other potential legislation.

The ETB is intended to remove legal barriers preventing the use of electronic technology in communications and record keeping. It should remove some of the uncertainty about the legal status of electronic communications and related uses of modern technology.

The CAB is sometimes referred to as the anti-hacking bill, but it includes a supplementary order paper that allows police and security services to intercept electronic communications with the appropriate warrants.

Both bills have been described as vital to the old government’s plans for a “knowledge economy” and IT minister Paul Swain had pressed to move them up the legislative agenda for several months.

ITANZ chief executive Jim O’Neill says now that the election is over, it’s “time for catch-up”, and he would be disappointed if the legislation was not passed by the end of the year.

Having talked to most of the political parties, O’Neill believes there is “a good deal of common ground” between them on the bills. “Assuming it’s going to be a Labour-led government, it’s likely to be business as normal.”

O’Neill says the bills were held up for “vote catching” pre-election measures.

Post-election, things should be more straightforward, he says. Assuming little change in ministerial portfolios, O’Neill expects the leftover legislation from the outgoing Labour-led coalition would be resubmitted as before.

Auckland-based IT specialist lawyer Emily Neale (pictured right) says the legal industry is especially seeking a speedy implementation of the Crimes Amendment Bill.

But the Clendon Feeney associate says she and other lawyers doubt it will be a priority for any incoming government.

“I would like it to be a priority. New Zealand is really slipping behind other countries, particularly the US, which has been passing legislation all the time,” she says.

But Neal sees the Crimes Amendment Bill as just a stepping-stone to other measures, similar to US legislation that helps protect children’s privacy online.

IT minister Paul Swain’s press secretary, Andrew Janes, says should there be a Labour-led government he expects the bills will be put back into the “holding pattern” for approval.

He was unsure when they might be passed, saying ministers do not often know themselves as matters are often outside their control. But lengthy coalition negotiations with multiple parties “would not be good”, Janes says.

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