Dump spy law, IT giants urge MPs

TOM PULLAR-STRECKER
Last updated 07:59 15/10/2013

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Google, Microsoft, Facebook and Yahoo have made a last minute plea to the Government not to pass new spy legislation that they say could present them with a "serious legal conflict".

The four companies wrote to Communications Minister Amy Adams urging the Government not to pass the Telecommunications Interception Capability and Security (TICS) Bill.

The bill would impose new obligations on telecommunications network operators, and potentially on internet firms, that would make it easier for the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) to intercept customer communications. It could also force network operators to follow the GCSB's instructions on network security.

Google spokesman Johnny Luu said he had heard consideration of the bill had been brought forward and it was likely to get its second reading in Parliament today, unless there was a change of heart.

That appeared unlikely. Adams announced late yesterday that she would make some refinements to the bill, introducing further checks and balances, but these did not appear to address the central issue raised by Google, Microsoft, Facebook and Yahoo.

The companies said in the letter that the bill could oblige any "blogging platform, social network, email service or other online forum", anywhere in the world, to provide assistance to the GCSB.

That could conflict with those companies' privacy and confidentiality obligations in other countries, they said.

The four firms said internet companies could be forced to choose between breaking New Zealand law, breaking the law in their own home countries, or withdrawing their services from New Zealand.  

Telecommunications Users Association chief executive Paul Brislen said he believed the TICS Bill could put US companies in particular in a sticky situation.

"I believe they are not allowed ever to pass customer information directly to another country's intelligence service, and this law requires that they do."

But Adams said in a letter back to the four firms that the obligations they referred to could only be imposed on internet firms following a ministerial directive, which would allow for the practical and legal concerns they raised to be considered.

The New Zealand government's approach differed from how the United States, Britain, Canada and Australia had decided to tackle interception issues, Google, Microsoft, Facebook and Yahoo said. However Adams rejected that, saying the TICS Bill was "not out of step".

The companies proposed an alternative three-pronged approach under which the New Zealand government would continue to use existing legal treaties to seek help from foreign governments, as and when they needed the cooperation of an overseas company.

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The four companies promised they would "work with US agencies to ensure New Zealand requests are addressed in a timely manner" and would each create a single-point-of-contact to improve communication.

They would also offer training to the New Zealand government in how to lodge and manage such requests for assistance.

But Adams said that was "not sufficient" to achieve the objectives of the bill.

- Stuff

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