Labour says plans by the Minister of Justice to address electronic crime by the end of the year are far too late.
"We knew about the problem 18 months ago - why didn't they do something about it then?" says Labour justice spokesman Phil Goff.
Minister of Justice Tony Ryall plans to introduce legislation by September to overcome problems which were highlighted in the R vs Wilkins case, as raised in Computerworld on April 5. In that case, the defendant was found guilty of defrauding a bank but the Court of Appeal quashed the conviction because the bank had transferred the money to the defendant's account electronically. The legal position taken was that since no "real" money had changed hands, no crime had been committed.
Addressing these problems "will be our first move", says Ryall, who says the government has to move carefully so as to remain in harmony with other jurisdictions.
"There's no point us going out on our own in one direction if the rest of the world goes in another."
Goff says Labour will support the government in its plans for electronic legislation, but he believes it would have been better to do something when the issue was first raised, rather than wait until a problem arose.
Ryall hopes to address the different aspects of electronic law - bringing laws up to date to include electronic transactions and the criminalising of what is referred to in the mainstream media as hacking but is more properly called cracking - the act of breaking into another individual's or company's IT system and the theft or destruction of electronic property. He believes most of the changes will be amendments to the Crimes Act rather than new legislation. "We can do most of these things with a simple clarification of the existing laws rather than with completely new legislation."
Goff agrees that the issue of policing in the Internet era is a complex one, and the first step must be to sort out the issue of electronic transactions to put them on the same footing as "real-life" transactions. Then the government should look at the peripheral issues, like Internet pornography and legitimising digital signatures.
Ryall says he has instructed the Justice Ministry to look harder at the area of e-crime and says it is of the highest priority for the government. He says the Law Commission is also working on the issue and the Institute of Judicial Studies will also be involved helping to train judges to better deal with e-crimes. Ryall is also setting up an informal network of advisers, including members of the legal sector and IT industry, to advise him in this area.
But the New Zealand Security Association wants government to take it further, and make changes to the Private Investigators and Security Guards Act 1974. The NZSA represents private investigators and security firms in New Zealand. They want to ensure standards are put in place preventing ex-criminals and ex-crackers from entering the security industry. Ryall says he has asked the industry to convince the government that there is a problem.
Shayne Bates, of IT security firm SP Bates & Associates, says: "We have to stop this nonsense of hiring ex-hackers to protect you. Our industry is saying they're going to expunge these people." Bates did not know of any ex-crackers working as security consultants in New Zealand.