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Q+A Corin Dann interviews Paul Brislen and Russel Norman

Published: 5:13PM Sunday August 25, 2013 Source: Q+A

Corin Dann interviews Paul Brislen and Russel Norman


Joining us now is Paul Brislen from TUANZ in the studio and Greens Co-Leader Russel Norman in Wellington. Good morning to you both. I'll start with you, Paul. Why, again, should we be so worried about this legislation? Isn't this just the mechanics of what we've been debating re: the GCSB Bill?

PAUL BRISLEN - Telecommunications Users Association of NZ

Well, it is, in many respects. We've decided we can spy on New Zealanders, and this is going to frame up how we're going to do that. But there are a series of concerns. And, as you saw in the clip, [from Dita de Boni] how will this affect international services being offered here? How will it affect the telcos themselves? Because the GCSB gains a new role in all of this, which is oversight of the building of the networks, but also for us, we've got a concern around what it will mean for those companies that are based in NZ trying to sell their electronic goods overseas - whether they will be able to-

CORIN So that's the economic damage, potentially. But let's just start with the issue of the expansion of powers. Is this an expansion of powers? They will be able to spy on things they couldn't previously?

PAUL They will be able to look at things they couldn't previously, but, for my money, um, the important-

CORIN What like? Can you give us some examples?

PAUL Well, uh, I mean, previously they weren't allowed to look at New Zealanders or residents of NZ at all legally. That's now solidified under the GCSB Bill. This takes it a step further. The GCSB will be able to- will have to advise telcos on how they build their network, which parts they add, what they remove, the structure of the network itself, even, presumably, down to which vendors they use to build the network. So that's going to be a great concern to companies like Huawei, which are under grave suspicion in the United States, and you've got a real issue there around whether this is a security matter or a free trade matter from the American point of view.

CORIN All right. Russel Norman, you've described the GCSB Bill, obviously, as a threat to freedom. How can it be a threat to freedom when they still need a warrant to get this information? I mean, there has to be- there's oversight there.

RUSSEL NORMAN - Greens Co-Leader

They need a warrant for some of it. I mean, if you're targeting foreign communications, you don't need a warrant, even though you might in the process also intercept NZ communications-

CORIN But John Key has said in the first instance, certainly, he won't allow access to those New Zealanders' content.

RUSSEL Well, if you recall, John Key, what he said is he went on national television and said, 'Oh, no, under this law, they can't look at the content of the emails.' And then he had to correct his statement and said, actually, they can. So I'm pretty dubious about the Prime Minister's statement on any of this. I mean, you know, in terms of freedom, right, you know, it's a slow-moving thing. So you're not going to notice tomorrow that suddenly you feel like you're more constrained just because the bill's passed. But it's a bit like the '91 Building Act. Like, when National pushed that through, we didn't have leaky houses the next year, but 10 years down the track, you find that we've got a whole problem with leaky houses. Likewise, once we give these powers to these agencies, they'll grow in confidence over time, and they'll start to access more and more data.

CORIN But that's why we've got greater oversight that's been put into the legislation. That's what that's there for.

RUSSEL Well, I mean, if you look at the legislation, we don't really have significantly greater oversight at all. The Intelligence and Security Committee, the only democratic oversight, still basically can't look at what these agencies are going. So there still isn't any fundamental democratic oversight.

CORIN Isn't there a bit of scaremongering here? Because there's the perception that they're suddenly going to be able to look at all your Facebook and all that sort of stuff, but only with a warrant, and we're talking nine, 10 cases a year so far, aren't we?

RUSSEL Well, it's true that the GCSB, according the Kitteridge Report, was only acting illegally nine times a year, or so they tell us. We don't really know what the truth is, how often they're acting unlawfully. What we do know is under the GCSB Bill, the information that they're able to get via this bill, the TICS Bill that we're talking about now, they can pass to US agencies. Um, so it is kind of like the GCSB Bill provided the legal framework; this bill provides some of the technical backdoor so they can get a backdoor into your provider, get the information, pass it to their Five Eyes network. I mean, I think the bigger point we've got to ask ourselves is does it really make sense to have the GCSB as our cyber security agency? Because this is our external spying agency, do we really want our cyber security agency to be the GCSB? Because it does have conflicts of interest.

CORIN Ok, I'll come to you, Paul Brislen. You were nodding there. You agree with that?

PAUL Yeah. We used to have an agency called the Centre for Critical Infrastructure Protection, which was run by the GCSB but at arm's length. That was subsumed into the GCSB some time ago. I think the industry had a lot more faith in an arm's length agency whose role was purely to look after the security of network infrastructure, rather than giving a spy agency the role of oversight and management.

CORIN How worried are you - Russel Norman touched on this - about our reputation as an independent country, with the US involvement, Five Eyes, those types of things, if this is seen as too heavy handed by our government?

PAUL Well, that's right. It is a big issue, because our trading partners are the very people that we're supposed to be keeping an eye on from a security point of view. We're talking about China, South-East Asia, in many respects. It wasn't that long ago that the Americans were using data taken from the Five Eyes predecessor, Echelon, and using that to sway negotiations between Boeing and Airbus, and NZ was dragged into that discussion quite unnecessarily.

CORIN But these are big-picture trade issues. Why should the average New Zealander be worried about that?

PAUL We have most of our dairy trade at the moment residing with one country, with China. They're our biggest trading partner in terms of dairying, and yet we're now signing deals in a security sense that put us on the other side of the fence with the Americans.

CORIN And is there a risk also that we're going to see a stifling of the IT industry? Entrepreneurs, those types of things, who are going to be put off because of these extra rules?

PAUL Well, that's the concern. If we are out of step with most of the other places that are being innovative and developing new software products to sell overseas, NZ will once again miss out on the opportunities that that provides. If we are seen to be a country that will allow backdoors to be built in, will allow the Americans access to private information, then potentially we are tainted with that brush. You know, organisations like Vikram [Kumar] with Mega provide a valuable service. A secure and encrypted locker that you can store files in. I run a business. I want to keep things secure for my shareholders, so why on earth would I then allow a NZ company to take that information and potentially give it to the American government?

CORIN And, Russel Norman, do you have concerns about obviously, again, those links overseas? I mean, can you explain to New Zealanders why we should be worried about whether the NSA or whoever else might be working with the GCSB?

RUSSEL Well, I mean, the GCSB is part of this Five Eyes network.

CORIN But they're our traditional alliance. They're our allies.

RUSSEL And the head of that network is the NSA in the United States, and that is now absolutely proven to be engaged in systematic, broad-scale surveillance of their citizens, and so that's what the Five Eyes network is now up to. The GCHQ has been proved to be engaged in this as well in the UK. Why would we want to be engaged in that kind of thing? I think, um, the encryption stuff is interesting as well in that the reason why I think that's interesting - and this is the conflict of interest for the GCSB - on the one hand, we're moving a lot towards encryption, and people are going to encrypt more and more to protect their security. On the other hand, the GCSB doesn't want encryption, and yet that's what consumers are going to be moving towards. So the operator of the network, which is what the GCSB is going to become, won't want exactly what consumers want, so we're going to have this conflict between the two.

CORIN Russel Norman, we'll have to leave it there. Green Party Co-Leader, thank you very much. And Paul Brislen from TUANZ.

RUSSEL Pleasure.

PAUL Thank you.

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