The government is your friend and wants you to be happy.
This is the transcript of a speech given by Thomas Beagle at Kiwicon in Wellington on November 6th, 2011.
The Search and Surveillance Bill is an attempt to rewrite New Zealand's laws around search and surveillance.
One thing that has become clear in the debate around the bill is that many people are not fully aware of the existing powers that government agencies have to pry into our personal affairs. It's not uncommon for someone to decry a 'new' power in the Search and Surveillance Bill, only to be told that it is already in existing law.
This article lists, to the best of our knowledge, the current ways that the government can use to watch us. We will expand/correct it as additional knowledge comes to light.
This article has not yet been updated to reflect the changes made when the Search & Surveillance Act became law.
[This post was prompted by contact from a person who had a laptop seized. Since original publication they have asked for their comments to be removed.]
We recently asked Customs whether they were able to do this and they replied that they could under the Customs and Excise Act (1996).
Looking for information
We'd like to find out more about what Customs are doing in this area. In particular we'd like to know what they're looking for, whether they're targeting anyone in particular, and what they do with the systems and data they seize.
Please contact us if this has happened to you or anyone you know. Please include as much detail as possible. We promise to respect your anonymity.
The Search and Surveillance Bill currently under consideration by Parliament is an attempt to create a unified law for all government agencies. These powers are currently defined, differently, in over 70 different acts ranging from the Crimes Act to the Meat Board Act.
The stated intention of the bill is to "reform the law to provide a coherent, consistent and certain approach in balancing the complementary values of law enforcement and human rights" while "[providing] for the appropriate legislative powers to enable law enforcement and regulatory agencies to extract electronic information and use surveillance devices in order to investigate and combat criminal activity".
The new Search and Surveillance Bill includes provisions to force people who own and manage computer systems to give full access to those systems. This includes the obligation to give up passwords to enable the authorities to access encrypted information.
Of course, this assumes that the person involved actually has the password. It's quite common for someone running a system to not be able to break the encryption used by other users to secure their data. Will the courts understand that? And even if they understand that, will they believe it?