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Spy law changes & telcos exposé

Written By: - Date published: 9:28 am, June 7th, 2014 - 13 comments
Categories: accountability, capitalism, Spying, telecommunications - Tags:

In August last year, the extensions to the GCSB law was passed by parliament, by just two votes. In November last year the TICS (Telecommunications Intercept Capability and Security Bill) passed into law (again by 2 votes; those of Peter Dunne and John Banks).

Gen Keith Alexander NSA stop spying on US

The GCSB Law pas passed against the recommendations of the Law Society, which argued there were insufficient safeguards to protect citizens’ data and privacy:

“This is in the face of mounting public concern and a denial of adequate public debate over the potential loss of personal and data privacy and increased levels of surveillance of both communications and metadata,” Mr Forbes says.

The concerns the Law Society expressed in its submission on the bill have not been significantly mitigated by the proposed changes.

On the passing of the TICS law, Andrea Vance reported:

New legislation to ensure all electronic communications can be exposed to the scrutiny of spy agencies has passed into law.

The technical Telecommunications Interception Capability and Security Bill will compel telecommunication firms to assist intelligence agencies in intercepting and decrypting phone calls, texts and emails.

Critics say the bill is authoritarian, limits internet freedom and impinges on privacy and civil rights. The Government says it is necessary to replace a decade-old law to keep pace with technology.

Thomas Beagle of Tech Liberty was one of the people opposed to the extent of the powers granted to state authorities by the 2 laws.  On the passing of the TICS law he wrote:

The bill codifies the government’s assertion that all digital communications (which is increasingly becoming equivalent to “all communications”) must be accessible by government agencies. The limits imposed are minimal and laws such as the GCSB Act override any limits included in TICS anyway.

Furthermore, to ensure that the government can do this, the GCSB will now have oversight of the design and operation of New Zealand’s communications networks. They will be able to veto any decision made by the network operators that might impact on security or, more likely, limit their ability to spy as they see fit.

Today, led by Vodafone, Telcos have revealed the amount that there networks were used for spying by government agencies.  Some of this spying must have occured prior to the passing of the 2 spy laws towards the end of last year.

In today’s NZ Herald, Patrice Dougan writes:

Phone companies have revealed the extent of Government agency spying on their networks, with more than 70 secret wire taps last year in New Zealand alone.

Mobile giant Vodafone last night published its first global Law Enforcement Disclosure Report, showing phone taps were being used in 29 countries in which it operates to listen in to conversations on its networks.

In New Zealand, the company reported 34 warrants for interception of phones by four Government agencies in 2013.

The police, the Security Intelligence Service, the Serious Fraud Office and Customs all gained access to Vodafone customers’ communications last year, it said

Vodafone says it has complied with the TICS law.

Following the report, Telecom issued a short statement to APNZ saying it complied with the Telecommunications (Interception Capability and Security) Act 2013.

“We can confirm we have received 40 requests over the last year,” a spokesman said.

A single warrant could target hundreds of individuals and devices, however several warrants could be targeted at just one person.

The police, GCSB and SIS have responded to requests for information on the extent of their spying on New Zealanders:

A spokesman for the Intelligence Service said it did not comment on intelligence or security matters.

However, its annual report said 34 domestic intelligence warrants were in force during the year ending June 30, 2013.

Government Communications Security Bureau’s figures for the same period show a total of 11 interception warrants and 26 access authorisations were in force.

There were 84 interception device warrants granted for the police in the 2012-13 year.

Calls to the Serious Fraud Office and Customs were not returned.

But these warrants would have been issued prior to the passing of the two spy laws in August and November last year.  So how much has this spying increased since the laws were passed?  And has the nature or extent of the kind of data captured changed also?

Vodafone has asked for the relevant laws to be changed.

Vodafone called for all direct-access pipes to be disconnected, and for the laws that make them legal to be amended.

The demands for data were “overwhelmingly related to communications metadata”, Vodafone said, adding that it also included demands for customer details, such as name, physical address and services subscribed.

Dunne over on Key spy review

13 comments on “Spy law changes & telcos exposé ”

  1. exitlane 1

    The number of warrants issued, while disturbing, is a smokescreen. The real issue is the unwarranted direct access pipes into actual infrastructure and in particular the Southern Cross cable which carries 95% of NZ’s internet traffic.

    That is how mass surveillance is carried out. We know that from Snowden’s revelations

    The Government and Telecom, which part owns the Southern Cross cable, have to come clean and tell us whether here, or in the US, 95% of our digital traffic is intercepted by one or more of the Five Eyes spy partners.

    Telecom gave a coded “yes we do it because we have to comply with US law” then a “we know nothing” response in this Herald article last year


    Telecom knows whether their cable is tapped into.. Our media need to their job and hound them until we get a straight answer.

    • David H 1.1

      Our media??? now that’s a joke. They seem to be more interested in who’s up who, and who’s not paying, and sucking up to the TricKey one. Than actually do their jobs and investigate anything.

    • karol 1.2

      The warrants weren’t just for access to Internet traffic, but for tapping phones also.

      • exitlane 1.2.1


        But whether it is 50 or 100 warrants, this just provides a diversion from the mass unwarranted surveillance which is going on by tapping into undersea cables – including phone call data.

        That is why Key is deviously correct when he says GCSB does not engage in mass collection of NZ communications. They do not have to, when the NSA does the job for them and GCSB can access that data from a computer using XKeystore or other tools revealed by Snowden.

        • Colonial Viper

          And remembering that each warrant could cover dozens or hundreds of people. Or perhaps multiple organisations or groups at the same time.

        • geoff


          Do the GCSB need a warrant to access the data with XKeyScore?

          • karol

            Isn’t it the case that the NSA accesses the data when the cable traffic enters the US? Thus not needing a warrant for NZ generated messages?

            • geoff

              My vague impression was that essentially everything on the internet is collected and saved on NSA/5eyes computers and they have enough capacity to store a few months worth of worldwide internet activity.
              Then XKeyScore is just the software that interfaces with that database.

              My thinking is that, because that information was not specifically ‘collected’ by GCSB (even though they are part of 5 eyes), that the GCSB could then use XKeyScore to search for information, including on NZ citizens, without any warrants or permission etc.

              Am I right?

      • Naki man 1.2.2

        The police have been tapping phones, using listening and tracking devices and going through peoples rubbish for years. How do you think evidence is gathered. There is nothing to investigate here. Why are the left so paranoid?

  2. burt 2

    The interesting thing here will be a timeline of laws being passed requiring telco’s to comply with surveillance access requests. It might be worth remembering here that prior to the early-mid 2000’s Vodafone GSM technology was unable to be tapped by the existing wire tap ( at Telecom exchanges ) methods. A law change was required requiring Vodafone to spend a few million dollars on kit that enabled the same level of interception on GSM networks as was available on CDMA and landline networks.

    But sure, it’s all nasty John Key right !

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