The government has given itself legal authority to inspect computers and monitor private e-mail as part of a fight against crime and terrorism.
The government announced in March 2001 a plan to fight cybercrime that it said would also protect people's privacy better. But the country's Privacy Commissioner, Bruce Slane, immediately denounced it as allowing police to hack into private computers and look at people's e-mails armed with a simple search warrant. This was insufficient for something as serious as secret investigations and spying on citizens, he said. Associate minister of justice Paul Swain said police and intelligence agents needed such powers to fight crime and terrorism conducted through the Internet. In July that year, the Green Party strongly denounced the bill and criticised the government's law and order committee for ignoring people's concerns about police spying on their private e-mail, especially as the police had not made a case for needing to do so. In the wake of the 11 September attacks, the government announced measures to step up monitoring of private computers and Internet traffic. One, announced in December 2001, required all computer and Internet users to cooperate with police investigations and ISPs to work closely with police, the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) and the Security Intelligence Service (SIS). In March 2002, the government allotted 1.5 million euros for phone-tapping and e-mail monitoring. Another law obliged phone companies and ISPs to install equipment to intercept their customers' calls. In November 2002, the government moved to boost the powers of the police, the GCSB and the SIS to monitor e-mail. The Telecommunications (Interception Capability) Bill proposed that Internet operators be required to install equipment to monitor and intercept encrypted messages. The bill, drawn up after a report by the Law Reform Commission, provided for fines of up to 25,000 euros for failing to do so. Once again, civil liberties organisations, the Green Party (notably MP Keith Locke) and some Internet operators attacked the serious implications of the measure for privacy of electronic communications. The bill had still not been passed in April 2003. All these government efforts aimed to force Internet operators, especially ISPs, to monitor e-mail messages if need be. Such measures give the police and intelligence services powers that broadly escape scrutiny by the courts or parliament. Using the Echelon electronic surveillance system In June 2001, the media reported that New Zealand was part of the US Echelon spy-network to monitor electronic communications. New Zealand journalist Nicky Hager, an expert on Echelon, told the Japanese daily Mainichi Shimbun that the US National Security Council, the spy agency that runs Echelon, was used until the late 1980s to conduct US industrial espionage against Japan, watching the role the world's second biggest economy was playing in the South Pacific. He said the GCSB spied on Japan until 1989 from its base in Wellington and helped analyse data about it from other Echelon network posts. In the early 1990s, the GCSB expanded and set up another base at Waihopai, near Blenheim. An advanced information-gathering system monitored the electronic traffic of Japanese embassies and consulates, including confidential information about trade negotiations, fishing, coal price talks, support for developing countries and immigration matters. Links: The Internet Society of New Zealand The Government Communications Security Bureau The Electronic Frontier Foundation Information about the anti-terrorism la Site of the Privacy Commissioner The daily New Zealand Herald