Surveillance like 'five stages of grief'

TEDx in Queenstown

JOHN EDENS
Last updated 15:49 24/02/2014
Southland Times photo
JOHN EDENS/Fairfax NZ

Vikram Kumar at TEDx Queenstown.

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Internet Party manager Vikram Kumar says he was under targeted online surveillance by state agencies a year ago.

Mr Kumar was speaking on Saturday at the second TEDx Queenstown, an independently organised session run under the global TED banner.

He discussed the limits and effects of state surveillance following whistleblower Edward Snowden's revelations about the phone and internet data-gathering capabilities of the National Security Agency in the United States and its Western allies, including New Zealand. Governments tended to argue that surveillance or the potential for surveillance was centred on a justification that if there was nothing to hide there was nothing to fear, he said.

But mass surveillance was not the same as targeted surveillance.

"For over a century [governments] have repeated if you have nothing to hide you have nothing to fear.

"The company founders [Mr Dotcom and others] were under surveillance by the GCSB and its partner, the NSA, the start-up was not doing anything bad but it was in the national interest of the US to keep an eye on the company.

"I believe I was placed under targeted online surveillance in February 2013." While initially reacting with jokes, the perception of being under constant surveillance was comparable to the five stages of grief, he said.

Eventually, given the resources of national intelligence agencies, he realised there was nothing to be done. But the invasion of private space caused stress, and mass surveillance, the unfiltered collection of personal meta-data, should be rejected.

Large-scale trawling of personal data had not prevented a single instance of terrorism.

"Governments are entering into every corner of our lives, I think it's important. The internet makes each one of us an easy target for everyone all over the world.

"Mass surveillance must be totally rejected, it doesn't work."

Internet privacy was given more prominence in New Zealand last year during the debates before the GCSB amendment bill was passed and with revelations the bureau spied on Kim Dotcom and dozens of other Kiwis.

Mr Kumar was previously the boss of InternetNZ, the firm that runs the .nz domain for the global internet administration body ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers).

He was in charge of the internet firm for three years before his resignation last year to take charge of Mega, the file-sharing site started by Dotcom, before moving on to run the fledgling political party.

TEDx speakers included Dr Libby Weaver, songstress Holly Arrowsmith, broadcaster Andrew Patterson and Queenstown-based busker Mathias "Piano Man" Lefebvre.

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