While we all sit back in stunned silence at plans by the US and UK governments
to spy on their Netizens, we ought to be aware that our own politicians appear
to be trying to slip similar draconian powers in through the back door -- or
so it seems.
The NZ Herald reports this morning that Kiwi Net users might be subjected
to the a legal obligation to hand over encryption keys in the same way that
UK residents are.
The only difference is that at least the UK government were honest and open
about their intentions and the effects they might have -- it seems that our
"big brother" is being somewhat covert in its methods.
Should we be worried?
Well there's the school of thought which says that if we want the authorities
to protect us from crime and terrorism then we must give up certain individual
rights in the greater interest of the country -- and it's hard to argue against
such a claim -- within reason.
However, in a reasonable and democratic society, we must surely be told what
rights we are about to lose and be given the chance to oppose such restrictions
before they're passed by government or legislators. If a government attempts to sneak
through provisions which have the potential to affect every citizen's rights
to free speech and privacy, then surely alarm bells must start ringing as to
exactly why they're not prepared to be more open about it.
It's an unfortunate fact that our politicians are not particularly Net-savvy,
something that can be borne out by the way in which, according to one Aardvark
reader, Paul Swain apparently sent an email to the list of those who attended
the recent Government e-Commerce Summit -- by CCing them rather than BCCing them!
Since publishing the above paragraph I have been informed that the Minister
did not CC his mailing list but did indeed BCC them. It appears that a
lack of awareness of the well-known BCC bug in Microsoft Outlook resulted
in each recipient receiving an entire list of all those in the BCC list.
I would suggest that, given the fact that the Outlook BCC bug is widely known
amongst Net-Savvy users, my original suggestion that our politicians are lagging
in their understanding of the Net still stands.
The very fact that those who are charged with the responsibility of running
the country continue to use a product such as Outlook -- which has repeatedly
been proven to be insecure, buggy and vulnerable to an increasing range of
viruses and trojans must also raise at least a little concern. While Outlook
is a fine email client -- it is not (in my opinion) suitable for use in
an environment where it may be required to carry sensitive information
requiring high security or where resistance to malicious attacks is important.
Full credit to Mr Swain for following up on his error and apologising to those
who were affected -- but I'd still like to see our politicians better educated
on the use of, and culture surrounding what has become one of the single most
important communications mediums of the 21st century. Do you agree?
Remember also that it was only a few short months ago that our Minister of
Economic Development couldn't tell the difference between a URL and an
email address. How on earth can we trust these people to determine what is
reasonable Net-related regulation and legislation versus what is unreasonable?
Are they simply pawns in the hands of those who, for whatever reason, wish
to extend their own powers over the citizens of the country?
Of course, as I pointed out at the start of today's column, New Zealand is
not alone in being burdened by politicians passing laws to control something
they don't properly understand -- this seems to be a global knee-jerk reaction
by those in power to a new medium which, by promoting the free flow of information
and facilitating the freedom of speech, threatens their hold on power by
educating and informing citizens and voters.
This is not a trivial issue and we should, at the very least, be engaging in
open discussions as to the desirability and scope of legislation which effectively
gives the government and its agencies the power (whether exercised or not) to
completely remove your right to privacy in respect to your Internet communications
An important thing to remember when weighing up whether we should allow any
government the right to invade our privacy is the rather sorry history of
corruption and mis-use of data gathered by the state in recent times. IRD
workers who sold names and addresses to debt collectors are just one instance
of how the government can't guarantee that such information won't be mis-used.
Now's the time to voice your opinion on this
very important issue. Tell me or Aardvark's readers what you think.
Aardvark Weekly, The First Edition
As mentioned at the top of this page, I have just spent almost a week in Singapore
where I met with a number of key people in the new economy area in both formal
and informal settings.
The first edition of the new Weekly will include my observations on the rather
surprising (to me) way that the some members of the Asian sector of the
finance industry and new economy views little old NZ and its attempts to
break into the new economy.
Rest assured that my inquiries into the activities of those heading
some of our own public new economy companies continues and will also be included
in the weekly at the earliest possible opportunity.
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