The government’s committee looking after the GCSB bill has
reported back and made very few changes in light of the overwhelming opposition
to the law change.
Currently opposed to the bill are the Privacy Commissioner,
the Human Rights Commission, InternetNZ, the Law Society, dozens of individual
submitters, the Labour party, the Green party, possibly NZ First and of course
In favour of the bill is the government and, presumably, its
security allies the US, Australia, the UK and Canada.
Increasingly, New Zealand trades with China, yet it is China
that is specifically listed as a potential threat from what we can read of the
advice to government over this bill and its sister, the Telecommunications
(Interception and Security) Bill which is still proceeding unhindered through
the political process, albeit “under urgency”.
We have a number of issues with the two bills, not least of
which is the cost it will impose on the industry and which will, inevitably, be
passed on to customers.
Under the bills, not only will the telcos be required to
store information they normally wouldn’t bother with, but they’ll also be
required to consult with the GCSB over changes to the network up to and
including which vendors they wish to use.
Assume for a moment that Chinese company Huawei is making
huge inroads into network deployments around the world and that US companies
are upset by this. Assume that Huawei is providing a better product at a
cheaper price and is currently engaged by all our major telcos in one form or
another. Assume that the GCSB still thinks China is the enemy and that Huawei
is a puppet of the Chinese political system.
What will that mean for our future network deployments?
Will Telecom, Vodafone, 2Degrees, Orcon and Slingshot and
all the rest be forced to use non-Chinese technology? Will they be required to only use “friendly”
technology providers, even if the cost is 20% more and the deployment that much
Will the GCSB balk at a request from a telco to move to technology
that passes email and TXTs through the network rather than decrypting and
storing them for future retrieval?
Will the GCSB ban Apple or Google or any other provider from
selling certain “uncrackable” products in New Zealand or ban New Zealand companies
from developing similar products for sale overseas?
In decades to come, will the GCSB be able to trawl through a
political leader’s entire online history looking for signs of being a teenager
in order to embarrass or block that person from office?
If all that seems unlikely to you then you’ll have no
problem with the bills as they stand. But even then there’s a problem.
The US Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA)
specifically excludes US-based companies from providing the kind of support the
GCSB and TICS bills demand. Under this law it is illegal for US-based companies
to provide foreign intelligence services with access to such customer data.
So even if these bills are introduced, Google and Apple,
Microsoft and all the rest will be unable to comply without facing legal action
in the US, presumably from the US government itself.
We’ve not been shown any pressing need to change our laws,
and most New Zealanders it seems are unhappy about the level of intrusion into
their lives these bills represent.
Just as difficult is the position it puts New Zealand in
with regard to both our trading partner, China, and our security partner, the
We don’t need to rush into a decision. There is no “clear
and present danger” that requires New Zealand to enact these laws without first
considering the obvious ramifications both at home and abroad. We need to get
this kind of thing right, because the consequences are grave indeed.