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Paranoia Or Commonsense? 5 December 2000 Edition
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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.

Readers Say
(updated hourly)
Encryption Keys... - Tony

Forced encryption key disclosure... - Bernhard

BCC "bug"... - Richard

New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990... - Michael

My reasonable may not equal Your reasonable... - Rob

Encyption... - David

Have Your Say

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!

Important Update:
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 or activities.

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.

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.

All who have subscribed should receive a confirmation email by Tuesday evening and, once they have confirmed, they should get the first edition by email on Wednesday.

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 and...

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

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