FryUp: Minister of snoop

Top Story: Intercepting your email

Top Story:

- Intercepting your email

Does no one care about the government interfering with their email?

The silence is deafening and surely if ever there was a good IT topic for debate this is it.

Last week IT and communications minister Paul Swain confirmed that telcos will have to ensure their traffic on their telecommunications networks can be intercepted in the name of law enforcement and national security.

The changes will be included in the Telecommunications (Interception Capability) Bill which is being drafted now, but this is something Swain has been pushing for some time.

When Swain first proposed email interception for security purposes, there was an outcry from civil rights groups and internet users.

Last year the New Zealand Herald awarded "the minister of snoop" the "Covert Chad Award for the Best Disguise as an Interception Device" for trying to bury mass surveillance legislation among his bill's anti-hacking clauses.

Well, it seems Swain no longer has to resort to subterfuge. Maybe the press is bored; maybe in the wake of the terrorist attacks on New York, they've decided email intervention is OK because apart from running a few NZPA stories based on the minister's press release, there has been little coverage of the fact. The only original angle taken by anyone was the Sunday Star-Times which instead of civil rights, focused on the cost the telcos will have to bear to upgrade their networks.

For grass roots discussion you can check out PC World's quick poll where the question was posed: the government's Telecommunications (Interception Capability) Bill requires that all email and phone networks be open to surveillance by law enforcement authorities - what is your reaction?

At the time of this writing, 88% had voted "Back off Big Brother. My email's private". Only 12% had opted for "Good move. Nail the cyber crims". Judging by comments left on the site, most people aren't happy about the possibility that their email could be read by government agents although a few put forward the "If I'm doing nothing wrong, I have nothing to fear" theory.

Swain says any interception will require a High Court warrant, as is already case, and the warrant will only be able to be carried out with the authorisation and agreement of an officer or employee of the communications company. Telcos won't be required to decrypt email encrypted by the customer, unless the operator provided the encryption facility.

Swain also says the law will bring us into line with legal requirements already in place in a number of different countries including the US, Netherlands, Germany, the UK and Australia.

However, some IT experts who have mooted the possibility of New Zealand becoming a data haven will probably take issue with that. Their view is that New Zealand can become to IT and communications what Switzerland is to banking. Huge multinational companies and organisations wanting super-secure data would store it in New Zealand because not only is it geographically isolated, even the government can’t interfere with email. Nice theory while it lasted.

Government outlines interception law - Stuff (22 March 2002)

$3 million bill so Government spies can tap your phone calls - NZ Herald (22 March 2002)

PC World Quick Poll

Newspaper says Al Qaeda using internet to regroup - NZ Herald (7 March 2002)

Interception capability bill due next year - Computerworld (1 November 2001)

Study finds Americans support email monitoring - NZ Herald (3 April 2001)

Cyber world fears snoop laws - NZ Herald (16 November 2000)

Swain’s email bill cops flak - Computerworld (31 July 2000)

Cyber-cops set bells ringing - NZ Herald (29 July 2000)

Intercepting your e-mail - PC World (18 September 2000)

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