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We recently obtained further documentation from the NZ Police about automated number plate recognition (ANPR). This includes a Police report from September 2013, the ANPR chapter from the Police internal manual and some responses to questions in our letter.
We noted the following points of interest:
- The Police currently have 17 ANPR equipped vehicles, most of which are patrol cars that can use ANPR when mobile.
- It costs approximately NZ$35,000 to add ANPR to a patrol car.
- The ANPR systems are not doing live lookups against the Police databases. Rather data about vehicles of interest is uploaded each morning from a USB flash drive. This is seen as a serious shortcoming.
- Approximately 3-4% of the cars passing an ANPR unit are "vehicles of interest".
- Police did a trial with the Ministry of Justice to use ANPR to identify cars of people with outstanding fines.
- The system is used to target the expected drivers of vehicles, not just the vehicles. e.g. a car registered to a known drunk driver might be stopped.
- Originally Police were keeping ANPR data for four months, but after discussions with the Privacy Commission dropped this down to 48 hours. They note that there are not enough ANPR equipped cars to do vehicle tracking anyway.
- However, the manuals do talk about using this 48 hours of records to detect the location of vehicles after the fact. They give the example of a constable checking the database to see if a newly stolen car passed by one of the ANPR equipped vehicles.
- Police documentation gives examples of using ANPR equipped vehicles to do sweeps of car parks.
- There have been problems with the cameras misreading plates, particularly with confusion of O/Q and 1/I.
- Police documentation points out that Police do not have a blanket power to stop any vehicle (except for administering a compulsory breath test) and that the officer must be sure that they have a legal reason to stop a vehicle of interest.
While we are not opposed to appropriate use of automated number plate recognition, we are concerned about using the system to target people and not vehicles. e.g. pulling over a vehicle because the registered owner has a drunk driving conviction. This risks unreasonable harassment of both the owner and of anyone else that they might lend the car to.
We are pleased that the Police are not using the system to set up a vehicle tracking database as we see this as a more worrying threat to civil liberties. We also note that Police statement that they believe that they need a tracking warrant under the Search & Surveillance Act to use a device (such as an ANPR database) to track vehicles.
This provides an interesting contrast to recent information from Auckland Transport about the surveillance and tracking systems they are using. We note that we currently have an outstanding LGOIMA request lodged with Auckland Transport about their surveillance plans.
However, it seems that the Police are prepared to use the 48 hours of history that they are keeping to locate vehicles after the fact, we wonder if this will be extended further in the future. This contradicts other statement and we will be asking for more information.
The TICS Bill (Telecommunications Interception Capability and Security), a partner to the GCSB Bill that has already been passed, is progressing through Parliament. See our round-up of articles about the Bill.
The Bill has been modified twice:
- The Bill as reported back (PDF) by the Law & Order Select Committee on 19/9/2013.
- A supplementary order paper added by the government on 15/10/2013.
The government has also provided two further documents:
- A comparison of the original 2004 TICA law and the TICS Bill (PDF).
- An infographic showing how law enforcement interacts with the interception requirements.
As reported back by the select committee
The Law & Order Select Committee made a number of minor changes to the Bill. Many of the changes are tweaks to the drafting that have no substantive effect, while others are minor technical changes to improve clarity or streamline procedures.
Even those that do attempt to make changes are fairly weak. E.g. the Director of the GCSB will now have the duty to make decisions about network security "as soon as practicable".
There are no substantive changes worth reporting.
Supplementary order paper 366
As reported in the press release from Amy Adams, the SOP makes the following changes:
- Clause 39, allowing the Minister to forbid the resale of a foreign service that doesn't allow interception, has been removed. This is a good change as the clause was basically unusable - no one really thought that the Minister was going to, for example, ban the sale of Apple products in NZ.
- The GCSB's oversight of network providers has been further cleaned up in an attempt to make it workable, and the Minister can now make regulations about the timeframes for decisions.
- The press release says "it is also proposed to narrow the scope of the matters that must be notified to the GCSB, reducing compliance costs for network operators". The words "any change" have now been replaced by "any change to the architecture", which would mean that minor changes would not have to be notified. However, the word "acquisition" has been added alongside procurement, thus extending the scope to systems that have not been through the normal procurement process (i.e. developed in-house or using free software).
- Adds an additional step before the Minister can make a direction to a network provider about how they should run their business. The Commissioner of Security Warrants will now be required to carry out their own analysis of the GCSB's risk assessment. The Minister will also have to take into account any cost or competition implications for the network provider.
- Acknowledges that some foreign-based service providers will not be able to provide assistance as required in clause 24 due to their own laws.
Tech Liberty comment
The changes to the Bill are largely tweaks designed to improve how the bill works rather than the product of any rethinking of what the government should or shouldn't be doing. Even the removal of section 39, which allowed the minister to ban the resale of foreign services, is fairly irrelevant as that part of the law was unworkable anyway.
There is no evidence that the revelations about the extent of government spying in our intelligence allies, the USA and UK, have had any impact on the TICS Bill which is still mainly concerned about making sure that all electronic communications in New Zealand can be exposed to government scrutiny.
The government is also still pressing on with their intention of giving the GCSB overarching control of New Zealand's voice and data networks. Again there have been some minor changes and shifts in emphasis, but network providers will still be obliged to get GCSB permission to expand or modify their communications infrastructure. The government claims that this is about improving security but it is also clearly about maintaining the ability of the Police, SIS and GCSB to spy on New Zealanders. How the GCSB will handle the tension between surveillance and security is yet to be seen.
One interesting element that hasn't changed is section 10(3) which obliges a network provider to decrypt a telecommunication where the network operator has provided that encryption. A number of submitters said that this was unclear - what about services such as Mega or LastPass that provide the encryption but don't have access to the key as it chosen by the user? The clause could be read to say that this was no defence and that the network operators would have to engineer in security backdoors or risk being fined. The government's decision not to clarify this would seem to indicate that this is the intention.
We believe that changes in technology mean we need to rethink surveillance, search warrants and interception. We also fear that the cold war heritage of our security services unreasonably influences their thinking and their operations.
We support the idea of an inquiry into our intelligence services to ensure that what they do and how they do it are in the best interests of New Zealanders. We also support the idea that just because something is technically possible, it doesn't necessarily mean that we should do it. There needs to be limits on surveillance to protect important rights, such as freedom of expression and freedom of association.
We have started our own project to develop a set of suitable laws and safeguards for surveillance and spying in New Zealand. Informed by the principles at Necessary and Proportionate, we want to come up with some solutions to the hard questions that we're all being confronted with. Please contact us if you'd like to be involved in this effort.
Text of our submission to the Law and Order Select Committee re the Telecommunications (Interception Capability & Security) Bill.
I represent Tech Liberty, we’re a group dedicated to defending civil liberties in the digital age.
In general we support the ability of the government to have interception capabilities on telecommunications where possible, when those interception capabilities have suitable oversight and control. However we fear that technological development is slowly making this lawful intercept regime increasingly irrelevant.
We’ll be addressing this and some other elements of the first two parts of the bill, before talking about the proposal to make the GCSB responsible for cyber security in New Zealand.
The government has announced two new Bills for reforming the GCSB and expanding their powers. The first is the GCSB and Related Legislation Amendment Bill (PDF) and the second is the Telecommunications (Interception Capability and Security) Bill (PDF).
This article is a summary of the major parts of the TICS Bill.
The TICS Bill is a replacement for the Telecommunications (Interception Capability) Act 2004. This law forced communications providers (ISPs, telcos, data networks, etc) to provide "lawful intercept" capabilities so that the Police, SIS and GCSB could access communications once they had a suitable warrant. The new bill expands and clarifies these requirements.
However, the addition of the word "security" is the key to what has changed. The new bill now gives the GCSB sweeping powers of oversight and control over the design, deployment and operation of all data and telecommunications networks run by network providers in New Zealand. The stated reasons are to both protect New Zealand's infrastructure and to ensure that surveillance agencies can spy on traffic when required. As part of this, the GCSB will have the power to stop network providers from reselling overseas services that do not provide these capabilities.
Summary of major elements of the TICS Bill
From the Bill:
A network operator must ensure that every public telecommunications network that the operator owns, controls, or operates, and every telecommunications service that the operator provides in New Zealand, has full interception capability.
Note that the surveillance agencies still need to have a legally issued warrant (under the Search & Surveillance Act, NZ SIS Act, or GCSB Act) to actually intercept any communications and there are obligations to avoid capturing communications that are not covered by the warrant.
The new Bill splits communications providers into multiple classes, with small, wholesale and infrastructure providers having reduced obligations. Providers must either have a full intercept capability, to be "intercept ready", or to be "intercept accessible". Membership of these classes can be varied by direction of the Minister.
The Bill specifies that the law applies to companies whether based in New Zealand or overseas. It then goes on to give the Minister the power to ban the resale of an off-shore telecommunications service in New Zealand if it does not provide interception capabilities. This could stop the resale of foreign-hosted VPNs, instant message services, email, etc.
Finally, there is more detail about how intercepted data should be formatted and delivered (apparently this has caused problems under the existing law).
Encryption and decryption
Network operators must decrypt the intercepted communications if they have provided the encryption, but there is no obligation to do so if the encryption is provided by others.
What does this mean for providers such as Mega (file locker) or LastPass (password storage) who have a business model based on the fact that they supply a cloud product that uses encryption but have deliberately designed it so that they can not decrypt the files themselves? This gives users the assurance that they can trust them with their data. Will the government close them down unless they provide a backdoor into the system?
There is a major new role for the GCSB in overseeing the design and operation of commercially available data and voice communications networks.
The Bill says that network providers and the GCSB are to work co-operatively and collaboratively on identifying and addressing network risks. If they fail to cooperate sufficiently, the law provides for penalties of up to $500,000 with an additional $50,000 per day.
Network operators must notify the GCSB of any proposed decision, course of action or changes made by them in regards to purchases, network changes or ownership/control of the "specified security interest". This includes their network operations centre (NOC), lawful intercept equipment, customer databases, databases of user accounts, and "any place where data aggregates in large volumes".
The GCSB can also demand any other information about the security and interception capabilities of the network including copies of contracts, specifications, and so on. That the information is commercially sensitive or held in confidence is not a defense.
All network operators will have to register themselves with the government. The register will be administered by the Police and available to the Police, SIS and GCSB.
The register will include the numbers of customers, names of responsible contact people within the organisation, the regions they operate in and the types of services they provide. Providers of infrastructure services (e.g. companies that provide fibre links but not the equipment for communicating over those links) will also have to give the names of their customers to the register. There are penalties for non-compliance.
The government can insist that communications providers must obtain secret-level security clearances for some of their staff. It does not say what will happen if none of the technical staff qualify for a security clearance.
Liability and protecting classified information
People who do any act in good faith under the new law will be protected from subsequent prosecution or lawsuits. i.e. the new law is superior to other NZ laws or existing contracts.
There is also a provision that allows the courts to receive classified information in a court case in the absence of the defendant or the defendant's lawyer. This applies to information that might reveal details of the interception methods used by the surveillance agency or is about particular operations in relation to any of the functions of the surveillance agency, or is provided as secret information from the surveillance agencies of another country. It can also be used if that disclosure would prejudice security of NZ, prejudice the maintenance of law, or endanger the safety of any person. The judge in the case can appoint someone with an appropriate security clearance to represent the interests of the defendant for these parts of the trial.
Analysis and comment
The new TICS Bill is a major expansion of government power over the internet and other communications networks in New Zealand. While the existing TICA Act already mandated the provision of lawful intercept capabilities, handing over final control of network design and operation to the GCSB in the name of "security" seems incredibly wide and open ended.
Adding an additional level of government bureaucracy to the design and operation of these systems would appear to be a fairly significant hindrance to the ability of network operators to run their businesses.
There also must be concern about the GCSB being able to ban the resale of any services that do not provide lawful intercept capability. This means that New Zealanders will be prevented from protecting their communications from the New Zealand government - but equally they will be prevented from protecting their communications from foreign governments too. (We can safely assume that a foreign service that gives access to the NZ govt will also provide it to others.) These rules could wipe out businesses such as file lockers and password stores that rely on providing secure storage to their users.
One must ask where the justification for this expansion of power is coming from. Has New Zealand already been materially affected by attacks on our communications infrastructure? It seems clear that while the GCSB may not be that competent at exercising the powers they already have, they have done a fine job of convincing the government that they can handle a lot more.
There are many other parts of concern and there will need to be more analysis of the interception capabilities in conjunction with the new GCSB bill. One that does stick out as particularly offensive to civil liberties are the provisions for convicting people based on secret evidence. How can you defend yourself fairly when you can't even find out the evidence presented against you?
We will be doing further work on analysing this bill and would welcome contributions, particularly from those within the industry who already have experience working with TICA requirements.
We've been keeping track of the Police use of new surveillance and tracking technology. We asked them what they've been doing with drones and here are the more interesting/informative answers (Police letter, 19th February 2013):
- The Police currently have one aerial drone.
- They don't have a specific budget for it and claim not to know how much they've spent on it so far.
- They say that they can use it for tracking people and cars but promise to do it in accordance with the Search & Surveillance Act. We note that our interpretation of this says that they need a tracking warrant to use an electronic tracking system but we don't know if the Police agree with this.
- The Police believe that their current policy concerning video recording operations and events also covers their use of drones.
- The Police have been contacted by the Privacy Commissioner re their use of drones and will be meeting with them soon.
- The Police expect their drone trials to finish by the end of 2013.
You may also wish to read this article about drones by David Beatson at NZ Pundit.
We're going to be following up to get more information. If there's any questions you want asked, please leave them in the comments.
The NZ Police are continuing to expand their use of technology to watch and track people in New Zealand. We've already discussed automated number plate recognition, but information has emerged about two new initiatives:
The first is Signal - a tool used to scan and collate publicly availably data from multiple social media sites such as Twitter, Facebook and Youtube. This data can then be analysed to establish connections between people and events, and was used during the Rugby World Cup to monitor both boy racers and political protesters.
The second is the trialling of aerial surveillance drones. As part of the trials they have already been used in some Police investigations.
We're not reflexively opposed to the NZ Police using tools to do their job better, but we do have some concerns about how they can be used to infringe our rights to go about our lawful business without unwarranted surveillance and tracking. We believe that it is not healthy in a democratic society for our every movement and action to be monitored, stored and analysed by the government.
We've made requests to the Police for more information about both of these initiatives and will report more once we receive it.
One thing that is of concern is that the Police seem to be being quite secretive about their use of technology. It seems that they wait for someone to find out about it before releasing information in dribs and drabs, sometimes after prompting from the Ombudsman. If the Police aren't proud of what they're doing to more efficiently fight crime, perhaps they shouldn't be doing it at all.
A second concern is that our laws, even including the new Search & Surveillance Act, might already be out of date when it comes to the Police use of such technology. For example, are there any controls on amassing publicly available data to such an extent that modern data analysis software can make some assumptions about very private behaviour?
We'd like to see two things:
- The NZ Police taking a more proactive role in disclosing what they are doing and how they are doing it. They may even wish to do more consulting with community groups and watchdogs such as Tech Liberty and the NZ Council for Civil Liberties.
- Work on a new set of standards and principles to inform the Police's (and other agencies) use of new technology and "big data" systems. These should cover data integrity, retention, security, auditing and notification. This is something that Tech Liberty is currently working on.
See update at end of post.
We've been keeping an eye on the NZ Police trials of ANPR (automated number plate recognition - read our explanation).
The main civil liberties issue with this technology is that the system stores the time and location of the license plate check. Once enough of these systems are deployed they can be used to track people by following vehicle movements, as is being done by a number of other countries. We believe that, at a minimum, there should be some controls on how this data is stored and used, for example by having to apply for a tracking warrant.
The Police themselves have been sending out mixed messages about whether they're keeping the information and whether they'll be using it for tracking, as documented by our article. At the end of that article we said we were seeking further clarification from the Police.
Police confirm they're not keeping ANPR data for tracking
We have now received a letter (PDF) from Superintendent Carey Griffiths in which he explains:
All three patrol cars and one of the vans have the capacity to store information for up to a two or three day period depending upon operational use. In general the information is not stored for any longer than a shift period which can vary from an eight hour to a ten hour shift.
One of the [two] vans has a system known as BOSS ( Back Office System Software) and this system has the capability to store information for a longer period ... The BOSS system settings have recently been amended, and the information is now only stored for a maximum of 48 hours.
It seems clear from this that the Police will not be keeping the ANPR data.
Police believe they can't track without a warrant
Furthermore, Superintendent Griffiths goes on to say that:
Police considers that with so few cameras, the technology cannot be used to "track" vehicles. In any event, Police cannot track vehicles other than in accordance with the Search & Surveillance Act 2012.
This contrasts strongly with what the Police said in a letter from December 2011:
There is no requirement for police to apply for a warrant for any ANPR information as it is gathered in a public place.
This change in attitude is quite interesting. The Search & Surveillance Act only refers to getting a warrant for tracking when it involves the use of a tracking device (s46). We initially took this to refer to getting a warrant to allow the installation of a "bug" on the car or person to be tracked.
However, tracking device is defined as "a device that may be used to help ascertain, by electronic or other means ... the location of a thing or a person".
Could one define an ANPR system as a tracking device and would the Police then have to get a warrant to use it to track people? It seems that the Police now think it would. The same argument would also seem to apply to using mobile phones to track people.
In our opinion this interpretation would fit in both with the purpose of the Act and the requirements in a civil society for oversight of the use of this type of mass surveillance.
We're pleased that the Police are not attempting to implement the sort of pervasive people/vehicle tracking systems that are becoming popular in some overseas jurisdictions. We do not think that this sort of police state behaviour has any place in a free and democratic New Zealand.
Furthermore, after some problems with illegal surveillance in recent years, it's good to see that the Police are taking their responsibilities under the Search & Surveillance Act seriously.
We will continue to monitor the Police use of ANPR technology and look forward to receiving copies of the assessment from the Privacy Commissioner and the final Police report into their test ANPR deployment.
Update 5th August 2013
The Police have announced they will be deploying new red-light and speed cameras. We asked them if these new cameras would support ANPR. Their response:
There are no current plans to deploy either digital red-light cameras or speed cameras that support Automatic Number Plate Recognition.
The main civil liberties issue is that the system stores the time and location of the license plate check. Once enough of these systems are deployed they can be used to track people by following vehicle movements. We believe that, at a minimum, there should be some controls on how this data is stored and used, for example by having to apply for a tracking warrant.
Nothing to fear?
The Police were represented on Close Up by Superintendent Carey Griffiths who said that these fears were incorrect: "The system we are using here, we don't retain the data."
He went on to say: "Most of the cameras and systems we use drop it off at the end of the shift. We're certainly not using it for data mining."
"Details of vehicle movements captured during ANPR deployments will be retained on a secure Police database."
What sort of data is stored?
"The time, data and a photograph of all vehicles passing the ANPR camera is stored." and "Yes it will include the location or where the device was deployed."
And will they be used for tracking?
"Police may search the stored data if there is a belief that there may be information relation to a crime; e.g. where a serious crime has taken place and Police are looking for an offender's vehicle."
And do the Police think they need a warrant to track people in this way?
"There is no requirements for police to apply for a warrant for any ANPR information as it is gathered in a public place."
The big question
Who is correct - Superintendent Carey Griffiths, Road Policing Manager, who just appeared on Close Up or Superintendent Paula Rose, National Manager Road Policing, who wrote to us in March and December 2011?
Has the policy changed in the meantime? Was Superintendent Paula Rose incorrect? Or has Superintendent Carey Griffiths been misleading us all on national TV?
Edit (19/8/2012): We have written to the Commissioner of Police to ask for an explanation and will report back with any answer we get.
ANPR stands for automated number plate recognition.
It’s a camera that can automatically recognise and read license plates on cars and then checks them against a central database. If the plate matches a “vehicle of interest”, the police can then decide to pull over the car and talk to the driver. ANPR cameras are typically deployed in police cars and in fixed installations by the side of the road.
The current state of ANPR in New Zealand
[Edit: there is some inconsistency between the information available over multiple letters from the Police and that reported in Police News.]
[Edit 2: Superintendent Carey Griffiths has denied that the Police will be storing the ANPR data and using it for tracking. We have asked the Police Commissioner for clarification.]
According to the June 2012 edition of Police News, the NZ Police have been trialling ANPR since 2009. This has involved four mobile ANPR units which are not that sophisticated in that they need two people to operate them (one to drive, one to watch the screen).
In theory the trial ended in January 2012 but it is our understanding from Police News that they are still using the current four ANPR vehicles (2 in Auckland, 1 in Waikato/Eastern and 1 in Christchurch/Southland) and are looking at deploying another couple.
We have requested copies of reports about the trial and any recommendations about further deployment of ANPR systems.
Thanks an OIA request by Alex Harris we also have a draft copy of the ANPR manual. There is also an associated letter where the Police report that the trial began in 2010 and has consisted of only two units for a limited time in Counties Manukau and Wellington, with them currently deployed in Counties Manukau and Waitemata.
The Police answer questions about ANPR
Some questions and answers from letters to the police about ANPR (questions are ours, answers are from the Police):
Q. What data is stored with each record (e.g. location, time of day, etc)?
A. The time date and a photograph of all vehicles passing the ANPR camera is stored.
Q. Will this information include the location of the ANPR device at the time of the lookup?
A. Yes it will include the location of where the device was deployed.
Q. How long will the data for each captured license plate be kept for?
A. Data of vehicle movements captured during ANPR deployments will be retained on a secure Police database. In time this information may be deleted with it is no longer required for the purpose it was obtained. Police may search the stored data if there is a belief that there may be information relating to a crime.
Q. Are the police considering using the information stored in the ANPR database to track vehicles?
A. The ANPR system alerts police to vehicles that are a vehicle of interest to police recorded in the vehicles of interest database.
Q. If so, do the police believe they would need to apply for a warrant to use the information in this way?
A. There is no requirement for police to apply for a warrant for any ANPR information as it is gathered in a public place.
Why does ANPR make us worried?
If ANPR was simply used by the police to help find people they are actively looking for, we’d probably have no argument against it.
The problem is that it’s more than just a simple database lookup. That central database isn’t just responding to queries, it’s also storing the date, the time and the place for every car that passes the ANPR camera.
So the police end up with a very big database of car sightings – which gives them the ability to track the movements of any car they wish. Even more worrying is that they can keep this data for as long as they like and therefore “go back in time” by entering queries for any day since the database was started.
The technology is rapidly getting cheaper and could easily end up deployed in every police car and in fixed places around major cities and roads, allowing for near total coverage.
There are three types of harm that can come from creating a new database like this:
- An inappropriate extension of police power that might be used badly. e.g. the Police use it to spy on political activists who are engaged in peaceful protest, breaching their rights to privacy and freedom from Police surveillance.
- Extension to other government departments. e.g. could CYFS access the database to determine that you are feeding your children badly because you park near the local McDonalds each day?
- Improper use. A police officer using it to stalk someone for their own reasons.
Tracking used to be hard
Tracking someone used to be hard and expensive but ANPR is going to make it easy and cheap. With ANPR you don't need a whole team of people, you don't need to install a GPS tracking device, you don't need to get a court order to access mobile phone data - you just install ANPR devices everywhere and then ask the database about whoever you like.
More to the point, you also don’t need to change any laws or apply for a surveillance warrant to install a tracking device – you can just start doing it.
It’s the sort of information that a totalitarian regime would love to have. But is it the sort of information that we want our government to have about everyone?
Shouldn't we talk about what sort of controls we might want to impose if such a system is implemented?
Are we going to end up with this system watching our every move without even any public debate about it?