Spying bill passes into law

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.

Communications minister Amy Adams said the bill will ''safeguard public safety and security''.

''This will be done by ensuring that it is technically and practically possible for surveillance agencies to intercept communications, where there is a warrant or other lawful authority to do so, and by introducing a formal framework to ensure the security of our telecommunications networks,'' she said. 

The bill has two parts - interception and network security. It replaces other legislation and is a partner to the Government Communications Security Bureau bill, passed earlier this year.

It compels telecommunications firms and online service providers to give "surveillance agencies" (the police, Security and Intelligence Service (SIS) and the GCSB) access to their clients' communications.

Telcos must also consult with the GCSB when developing new infrastructure and networks to lessen the risk of cyber attacks and espionage. The bill will replace the Telecommunications (Interception Capability) Act 2004.
It places different requirements on network operators depending on how many customers they have.

Full interception capability will apply to the bigger telcos (with more than 4000 customers over a six-month period) like Telecom and Vodafone. Others must be "intercept ready" and "intercept accessible".

Obligations include allowing for equipment to plug into the network, and ensuring staff are trained and have suitable security clearance.

A clause which allows the responsible minister to direct that a network operator must not resell an overseas telecommunications service has been scrapped.

Adams also narrowed the scope of matters that must be notified to the GCSB and implemented a further check before the Government can demand a telcos  respond to a perceived security risk

However, these changes were a response to industry concerns about compliance  costs and did not address civil rights concerns.

Both Labour and the Greens want an inquiry into the activities of the Security Services.

Labour MP Grant Robertson said the GCSB ''widely expanded the powers ... and fundamentally changed its purpose'' of the bureau. 

It can now spy on Kiwis, as well as foreigners. ''This legislation operationalises those changes. They are fundamental changes to the way our security agencies work.''

He said there are ''daily revelations'' about the extent of mass surveillance by the US. The US was tightening up the activities of it intelligence agencies, whereas National was broadening powers.  ''The world has changed ... and this government wants to bury its head in the sand.''

Greens co-leader Russel Norman said the legislation gives the technical ability for New Zealand and foreign agencies to spy on Kiwis.

''Essentially signing up to this legislation is part of the price for membership of the Five Eyes network.''

The billed passed 61 votes to 59, with the support of United Future and ACT.

Fairfax Media