Wiretap legislation economic disaster | The Jackal

19 Aug 2013

Wiretap legislation economic disaster

Yesterday, the NBR reported:

The government is planning to issue secret orders to service providers when the Telecommunications (Interception Capability and Security) Bill ("TICS Bill") becomes law to force them to create interception capability for surveillance agencies. This has been approved by cabinet and is therefore official Government policy.

What's not clear is if the mechanism of a Ministerial directive will also be used to gag the service provider? Or is the secrecy merely a guise to allow compliant service providers to pretend they haven't been forced to create a backdoor for the government?

Either way, the impact on New Zealand online service providers, and New Zealand as a country, could be truly devastating.

It's little wonder the service providers have unanimously come out strongly against such badly devised legislation. The TICS bill will clearly undermine their business models by giving their competition an advantage. Vikram Kumar explains why:

However, the consequences of this approach are very damaging and dangerous - when you don't know who to trust, you trust no one. There will be a loss of confidence across all service providers in New Zealand. A lack of information is quickly filled by rumour and FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt).

In fact it won't just be damaging to the telecommunications companies, it will be damaging to New Zealand's economy as well.

As an example of just how bad the consequences are, consider how there is now a loss of trust in all US-based online service providers from Snowden's revelations. While there may be debate about the exact nature of the backdoor, there is no doubt that 9 online companies - Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, PalTalk, AOL, Skype, YouTube, Apple - do provide the US Government with secret, lawful access. Gag orders makes things worse - two email providers facing actual or potential secret orders have shut down but are unable to provide any real information, stoking FUD.

As a consequence of the loss of trust, The Information Technology & Innovation Foundation (ITIF) has projected a $35 billion loss to US cloud companies. A Forrester analyst projects global losses at $180 billion. Meanwhile, European companies are likely to get an advantage over New Zealand and US companies, including a greater push to keep things within Europe.

So much for National being business friendly.

I wonder if the government has even considered the huge cost to New Zealand's economy because of their stupid legislation? Probably not! Instead they seem totally focussed on creating a mass surveillance state and damn the consequences.

Official government policy
Examples from around the world show just how corrosive secret spying capability orders and gag orders are to trustworthiness, both to the country and its online service providers. Secrecy also aids compliant online service providers, happy to go along with the Government without insisting on a warrant, protected by the Principle 11 exceptions in the Privacy Act. A real corporate-government surveillance partnership. 
Secret orders, secret compliance, secret evidence in courts... we just need secret courts to complete New Zealand's descent into a totalitarian state. 
People will quickly figure out that they have no way of knowing which particular service provider has or hasn't given the government a backdoor. The logical approach would be to assume that all service providers are compromised.

Which business is going to take the risk that their, say, Board papers or accounts, are secretly available in real-time to the NZ Police, SIS, GCSB, and the Five Eyes partners? In particular, overseas businesses will be spooked from doing business with any New Zealand based online service provider. They will know that warrants can be issued to safeguard New Zealand's economic well-being just as easily as they are for national security and law enforcement.

Will this strengthen the case for the likes of Google and Microsoft to pull out of New Zealand rather than risk getting a secret directive for a backdoor from the ICT Minister?

Will New Zealand cloud companies decide to move out to more democratic countries?

When the NBR starts questioning the governments position with such veracity, you know that National has got things horribly wrong! Claiming that the NBR is just fear-mongering along with New Zealander of the year Dame Anne Salmond, Rodney Harrison QC, the Law Society and the Human Rights Commission etc isn't going to cut it this time John.

The TICS and GCSB bills look set to not just undermine our democracy, they will damage the National party and their coalition partners as well. At least there's a silver lining to the governments undemocratic law changes that will undoubtedly be an economic disaster for New Zealand.