At a time when anger at NSA and GHCQ blanket surveillance is growing, and when national governments are beginning to show an increasing willingness to debate the proper role of intelligence agencies in a free society, and perhaps even to take concrete steps towards limiting their power, New Zealand’s newly passed legislation, which compels telecoms companies such as phone companies and ISPs to allow its Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) access to emails, texts and phone calls comes as something of a surprise.
While nowhere near as large or with access to as much of the world’s datastream at the NSA and GHCQ, GCSB is a very similar organisation, and one that, along with the Australian and Canadian intelligence services forms part of the ‘Five Eyes’ spying network.
Although New Zealand’s defence minister Jonathan Coleman has gone on record saying that he was ‘not worried’ about revelations that the NSA spied on world leaders, opposition party Labour has criticised the narrowly passed legislation (61 votes to 59), with its spokesman on security and intelligence saying that,
‘What is being becoming clear globally is that it appears that [GCSB] is being used to do things that New Zealanders would not be comfortable with.’
Green Party co-leader Russell Coleman observed that ‘essentially signing up to this legislation is part of the price for membership of the Five Eyes network’.
Despite this opposition and the narrowness of the vote, the ruling centre-right National Party have staunchly defended the new law, declaring that it would ‘safeguard public safety and security’, allowing ‘surveillance agencies to intercept communications, where there is a warrant or other lawful authority to do so, and by introducing a formal framework to ensure the security of our telecommunications networks’.
What is not clear is whether this will allow the kind of blanket surveillance performed by the NSA and GHCQ as part of its Temora program.
New Zealanders can of course use VPN to bypass this kind of surveillance, but unfortunately New Zealand’s sheer physical distance from suitable locations for VPN servers (Hong Kong is probably the closest ‘good’ location) means that performance is likely to be poor. Nevertheless, with GCSB spying equipment installed on all domestic telecoms networks, anyone in New Zealand who cares about privacy should consider using it (or something similar such as Tor, but VPN is much faster).