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The Kiwi Carnivore/Echelon? 30 October 2000 Edition
Previous Edition

The mainstream media is abuzz with news that NZ's law enforcement agencies are straining at the leash to be given government-authorised powers to intercept and monitor electronic communications, including email.

Is this a threat to our personal freedoms and civil liberties -- or is it just another indication of how those agencies still don't understand the Internet?

Readers Say
(updated hourly)
Email is "Record Communication."... - Rob

It's late in the day... - Ian

surveillance comment (exclusive) - Jenny

Don't you realize how vulnerable - David

Yet again our government proves - Spiro

If you have done nothing wrong... - Richard

As you have so obviously pointed... - Andy

It needs to be remembered... - Peter

Have Your Say
Personally I'm in two minds as to how significant such powers might be to the average NZer.

No doubt the civil libertarians amongst us will be up in arms claiming that this is an outrageous proposal and that we all have the inalienable right to privacy -- but at least one member of government has already come back with that old sop by telling us that "if you have done nothing wrong then you'll have nothing to worry about."

I think Arthur Alan Thomas and a number of others who had "done nothing wrong" but became victims of a less than perfect law enforcement system might have good grounds to contest this tired old justification for eroding the rights of good honest kiwi citizens.

Then there's the issue of whether such surveillance and interception rights would actually make any difference to criminal activities or help the authorities in solving cases. Although it might help with the very dumbest of criminals (who seldom pose much of a threat anyway), the well organised gangs and individuals that are the real problem are unlikely to be affected.

If the police and security agencies think they're going to be able to find incriminating evidence in a drug-dealer's email box then they're probably going to be awfully disappointed. The free availability of very strong encryption software makes it possible for even the least computer-literate criminal to wrap their email in an all but impenetrable cloak of secrecy.

It's because of this freely available encryption that I don't really care whether my email can be legally intercepted or not and I won't be too worried if this power is granted to our law enforcers. Like so many others, I'll simply encrypt anything I really want to keep private.

Of course, as we all know, it's not the Internet which represents the most powerful piece of electronics communications for aiding criminal activities -- it's the pre-paid cellular phone. Due to the fact that anyone can purchase a prepaid phone with cash, thus providing total anonymity, these devices offer criminals total anonymity. If the authorities really want to crack down on the effect that modern electronic communications is having on the criminal element then how about they require the registration of all prepaid phones?

Of course, as the NZ Herald points out, there's still the issue of who caries the full cost of all this surveillance and interception. With the profit margins of ISPs already stretched by a highly competitive marketplace, should they be penalised? Or should the long-suffering taxpayer have to fork out huge sums to cover such activities -- and for what gain?

I find it very interesting to note just how keen our government is to establish parity with the USA and Europe on the matter of e-snooping, yet how reluctant (some would say absolutely opposed) they are to giving us equality with those countries in respect to the even more important issue of taxation on R&D activities.

Can we have some consistency here please!

Since this is an issue that has the potential to affect everyone who uses the Internet -- I'd like lots of feedback please! I know this column is regularly read by a number of politicians - now's your chance to tell them what you think.

The Microsoft Hack
In what is almost certainly the biggest security story of the year -- Microsoft found that an internal network had been compromised by a trojan horse program and, depending on which news report you believe, some of its key source code may have been exposed to external scrutiny.

Surprisingly, Microsoft have come out and admitted the extremely embarrassing snafu -- but not surprisingly they're disclaiming that it has any real significance to their products or the security thereof.

Big-wig Balmer told the media that the hackers did not insert any viruses or bugs into the Microsoft code -- and no doubt millions of people all over the world muttered quietly to themselves: "they didn't need to."

Could it be that once the hackers saw the source code they simply thought to themselves "there's absolutely nothing we can do to make this any worse than it already is"?

The Weekly
Yes, I know the first edition of the weekly has yet to appear -- but I'm still working on it.

Hopefully (if current leads pan out) it will include a very interesting expose' into the astoundingly bad behaviour of a group of local "new economy" company directors (some of who are also on the board of a public company). Just how competent and ethical are the managers of some of our hi-tech public companies?

If you want to receive the "all new" Aardvark Weekly in PDF format by email then please use the contact form to leave your email address.

You'll get a confirmation email within a day or two and you won't receive anything else unless you respond to that email to confirm your opt-in status.

As always, email addresses submitted for the purposes of receiving the Weekly will not be given away, sold, bent, spindled, mutilated or otherwise abused and you will not receive anything other than the weekly as a result of signing up.

As always, your feedback is welcomed.

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Copyright © 2000, Bruce Simpson, free republication rights available on request

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