Mass surveillance seen as overkill

JOHN EDEN
Last updated 17:58 07/02/2014
TALK THE TALK: Internet Party manager, Mega CEO and former InternetNZ boss Vikram Kumar will be speaking at TEDx Queenstown.
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TALK THE TALK: Internet Party manager, Mega CEO and former InternetNZ boss Vikram Kumar will be speaking at TEDx Queenstown.

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In the TEDx world ideas are worth spreading and Internet Party manager Vikram Kumar is brimming with purpose.

Kumar, one of the keynote speakers at the Queenstown TEDx, 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 setp started by Kim Dotcom, before moving on to run the fledgling political party.

Kumar's TEDx presentation will touch on state surveillance following whistleblower Edward Snowden's revelations about the phone and internet data-gathering capabilities of the National Security Agency in the US and its Western allies.

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, Kumar said.

"At a superficial level that's a very attractive argument. I want to look at that in context of my own personal experience, it's about looking at that justification and argument."

The argument was not about hiding data but rather the psychological effects of mass surveillance.

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

"People support targeted surveillance when national security is involved. What we do not support is mass surveillance and collecting all the information possible. Targeted surveillance under the right conditions with proper oversight."

He said analyses of mass surveillance in the US concluded there was not a single case where large-scale data trawling prevented, for example, a terrorist attack.

Kumar lobbied the Government in the run-up to the amendment bill and the Telecommunications Interception Capability and Security Bill, which give the Government powers to compel telecommunications and internet service providers to assist in investigations.

"The response I got from them [the Government] was very much ‘This is a tidy-up' whereas my view was it was significantly different from what we had previously.

"What we have from Snowden is that in addition to knocking on the front door the NSA and Five Eyes [the intelligence alliance of New Zealand, the US, Canada, Australia and the UK] have been breaking into the system from behind also."

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In New Zealand, 80 per cent of internet traffic originated in the US. One undersea cable system connected New Zealand to Australia and the US and this effectively meant a monopoly on pricing and capacity.

In addition, there a was a domestic lag in internet capability because of geography.

"There's a lot of focus on the international but we also have to get our domestic back-haul and domestic distribution sorted. In Queenstown it's [then] got to get into their houses. Whether it's fibre or wireless there's a real issue with the commercial and technical architecture."

Internet speeds vary from country to country and, for example, South Korea recently trialled 5G internet - capable of downloading a movie-sized file in seconds - but in New Zealand this was "never going to happen."

Even by 2020 with the projected ultrafast broadband rollout completed, country-wide coverage was expected to be 75 per cent.

"My interest is we have got to the point where we need better laws and more focus and priority on international, technology and internet issues."

As for the Internet Party, currently unregistered, he said his job in management was similar to helming any startup company.

The party needed members and once established those were the people who would help formulate policies.

"I suspect young disaffected people who have not voted who believe voting is not important would be a huge critical part of the party."

FAST FACTS

What: TEDX QUEENSTOWN

Where: Queenstown Memorial Centre When: February 22

Tickets: Sold out but watch for spare tickets on the TEDx Queenstown Facebook page

Speakers: Include Dr Libby Weaver, Ngai Tahu Research Centre fellow John Reid and songstress Hollie Arrowsmith.

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