NZ’s cyber spies win new powers


cyber-monitoring measures have been quietly introduced giving police
and Security Intelligence Service  officers the power to monitor all
aspects of someone’s online life.

[] The measures are the largest expansion of police and
SIS surveillance capabilities for decades, and mean that all mobile
calls and texts, email, internet surfing and online shopping, chatting
and social networking can be monitored anywhere in New Zealand.

In preparation, technicians have been installing
specialist spying devices and software inside all telephone exchanges,
internet companies and even fibre-optic data networks between cities
and towns, providing police and spy agencies with the capability to
monitor almost all communications.

Police and SIS must still obtain an interception
warrant naming a person or place they want to monitor but, compared to
the phone taps of the past, a single warrant now covers phone, email
and all internet activity.

It can even monitor a person’s location by detecting their mobile phone; all of this occurring almost instantaneously.

Police say in the year to June 2009, there were 68 interception warrant
applications granted and 157 people prosecuted as a result of those

Police association vice-president Stuart Mills said the
new capabilities are required because criminals were using new
technologies to communicate, and that people who weren’t committing
criminal offences had little to fear.

However, civil liberties council spokesman Michael Bott
said the new surveillance capabilities are part of a step-by-step
erosion of civil rights in New Zealand.

Police Minister Judith Collins responded to questions
from the Sunday Star-Times about the new surveillance capabilities,
saying: "I support the rule of law." In last year’s budget she approved
extra police funds to subsidise companies wiring surveillance devices
into their telecommunications networks.

The measures are the consequence of a law, the 2004
Telecommunications (Interception Capability) Act, which gave internet
and network companies until last year to install devices allowing
automated access to internet and cellphone data.

Telecom, Vodafone and TelstraClear had earlier 2005
deadlines, and new cellphone provider 2degrees installed the
interception equipment before launching last year.

Official papers obtained by the Star-Times show that,
despite government claims that it was done for domestic reasons, the
new New Zealand spying capabilities are part of a push by United States
agencies to have standardised surveillance capabilities available for
their use from governments worldwide.

While US civil liberties groups unsuccessfully fought
these surveillance capabilities being used on US citizens, the FBI was
lobbying other governments to adopt them. FBI Director Robert Mueller
III told a senate committee in March last year that the FBI needs
"global reach" to fight cyber-crime and terrorism and that co-operation
with "law enforcement partners" gives it "the means to leverage the
collective resources of many countries".

Auckland lawyer Tim McBride, author of the forthcoming
New Zealand Civil Rights Handbook, says our politicians had let down
New Zealanders when they yielded to the foreign pressure and imported
US-style surveillance into New Zealand.

He said "monitoring email, internet chatting and
Facebook is like the police and SIS planting bugs in every cafe and
park. It would probably help solve a few crimes, but the cost is just
too great".

The 2004 New Zealand law, which mirrors laws overseas,
requires the content of any communication plus "call associated data",
such as times, phone numbers, IP addresses and mobile phone locations,
to be able to be copied and sent to the police, SIS or Government
Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) at the time of transmission or
"as close as practicable" to that time.

In practice, a specialist said, this means someone’s
email can be "at the agency within one or two minutes of it actually
being on the wires".

When the police and SIS were pushing for the
interception capability law they argued repeatedly that it would not
"change or extend in any way the existing powers".

But civil libertarians say that the invisibility of electronic surveillance reduces the opportunity to challenge it.

A technician familiar with the developments said the previous
surveillance technology dated from the early 1980s when the Telecom
phone system went digital. Police bugged individual phones and could
request suspects‘ call logs.

More recently police had taken a warrant to telcos and
gone away with printed emails, but did it rarely as there were problems
using the evidence in court.

"This is the first big jump from there," said the technician.

"They’ve never had the powers to force ISPs to build in spying
capabilities before now. I imagine law enforcement is very excited
about this."