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?
Personally I'm in two minds as to how significant such powers might be to the
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"?
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?
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