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The buggers are here

Written By: - Date published: 9:27 pm, July 13th, 2011 - 9 comments
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Back in April I posted how when Helen was PM, visitors to Beehive offices had to leave their cellphones in the foyers. I understand it’s still the practice. It’s not because Ministers suspect officials of bugging them. It’s because cellphones can be accessed remotely and used as bugs by outsiders without their owners knowing. A Murdoch-owned Fox channel, ironically,  tells how it’s done. Google tells you where you can buy to spy.

So our leaders, of all political persuasions, think phone bugging is a worry. I do too. It is and it’s serious and those in a position to know are concerned its here.

The Herald thinks the demise of the News of the World is just about celebs getting a comeuppance. But the most significant aspect of the story that has now gone ballistic beyond Britain through the English-speaking world has been to uncover how the Murdoch press systematically cowed police and politicians alike with threats of public exposure of their private life.  Political compliance with media monopoly in the BSkyB takeover, and police cover-up over payoffs and untouched evidence. Celebrity Hugh Grant’s sting of News of the World journalist is a classic; judge for yourself whose moral compass you would want to follow.

The DomPost has stated, not posted online, that under the present editor they do not use hacking techniques. That is somewhat reassuring. But they also say:

New Zealanders can be forgiven for wondering if NOTW tactics are used here, too, to score an exclusive story. It would be daft to assert that that is impossible.

Enough said. The media’s worry is that privacy law may be tightened. Here’s former editor Richard “Spinner” Long arguing the case, incidentally saying that good old Rupe would have had nothing to do with hacking – “crass” excess is not his way. I suppose he means he uses subtle excess. What Long’s mate Rupe and his close associates are finding however is that deniability is no longer an option and finger-pointing insufficient to head off blame.

In my view it’s well over time for Kiwis to take the blinkers off. The Engineers Union, which represents journalists,  found someone from a paper tapping their phones during its negotiations with APN in 2005. Stronger privacy protection is the best prevention against any possibility of the same tactics here.

9 comments on “The buggers are here ”

  1. jackal 1

    Cellphone hacking was widely used in the Operation 8 case. SIS archives and files made public over the last few years, show that the SIS have been snooping on a variety of people throughout NZ. They received $43.4 million in the 2006/07 year, so have a large budget to do just about anything they want to.

    However according to the Department of the Prime Minster and Cabinet website, they have a current annual operating budget of only $11.5 million. Apparently the SIS has a total staff of 115.

    There’s also the new Government initiative to simplify information sharing and increase the numbers of “spies” considerably. Wellington Pipitea House holds 600-700 staff from the The Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, the Government Communications Security Bureau, the Defence Force and the Combined Threat Assessments Group. I hate to think how much all that is costing us.

    But what is even worse than the drain of finances from such a huge security industry is the assault on Kiwi’s rights to live without harassment. Recently National ignored the advice of the Privacy Commissioner and rushed through some major amendments to the New Zealand Security Intelligence Service Act (1969).

    I agree with the NZ Law Commission who said in 1991:

    It is possible to imagine government officials doing more to destroy democracy in the name of counter-terrorism than is presently likely to be achieved by terrorists themselves.

  2. Vicky32 2

    There’s absolutely no reason to assume “it can’t happen here”… Of course it can!

  3. Lord Zealand 3

    Bugs?

  4. Colonial Viper 4

    You used to have to work hard to plant a microphone attached to a transmitter, or maybe a remote tracking device in someones car, perhaps their office or the bedroom they sahre with their spouse.

    Now they are stupid enough to just walk around with it for you.

    The clever bloody thing can probably also tell the remote spy what temperature you’ve set the climate control to over the wireless internet etc.

  5. Rich 5

    The A5 encryption standard used for GSM was made deliberately weak at the behest of intelligence organisations in the late 80’s when it was being designed. Of course, late 80’s “crackable by NSA” has become 2011 “crackable by anyone”.

    Ministerial offices should in general be a no-go area for cellphones and the like. Certainly UK practice in the 90’s was that highly classified material (not sure if this came in at Secret or Top Secret) should be handled in a Faraday cage. (I’ve seen such a computer room, complete with an “airlock” door).

    • Colonial Viper 5.1

      Indeed, although I suspect that lining a room entirely top to bottom with foil christmas decorations would achieve the same thing…the airlock door is a bit over the top lol.

  6. prism 6

    That journalist union story shows a danger. I thought that conference calls had to have an allocated login number each time. You would think that would provide a good modicum of privacy and security, unless there was some leak from a weak point in the chain. But I don’t know if that system is still followed. Instructions for its use were once in the telephone book but I couldn’t find them last time I looked.

  7. Anne 7

    There’s absolutely no reason to assume “it can’t happen here”… Of course it can!

    You are right Vicky32. What’s more it has been happening here since the 1970s-80s. Not saying it was members of the fourth estate, but phone tapping and other spying techniques – largely for political purposes – was certainly occurring in New Zealand. Can’t say more than that in a public forum, but my own experiences suggest quite a few innocent people have been targeted over the years.

    I’m not referring to those agencies (including the police) who have state-approved authority to conduct actions of this kind.

  8. Windy.City.Struggler 8

    Classic comment ..

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