Department of Internal Affairs failing on open government

Last week we announced that the New Zealand internet filter had “gone live” and was now being used to filter the connections for users of two ISPs (Watchdog and Maxnet), with more expected to follow.

The obvious question has to be, why was Tech Liberty announcing something that the Department of Internal Affairs had done? Where was their announcement that the filter had gone live on the 1st of February? Don’t civil servants have a duty to communicate to the people that they serve?

Sadly this reticence with information has been typical of the Department of Internal Affairs in relation to the implementation of the Internet filter.

Deleting Public Records

Last year we used the Official Information Act to ask for copies of the reports that the inspectors has used to justify banning the websites on the list. The DIA refused. After we appealed this refusal to the Ombudsman, the DIA then said that those records had been deleted and therefore it was impossible for them to give them to us anyway. The Department has an obligation under the Public Records Act to keep such information.

We complained to the Chief Archivist, who investigated and confirmed that the DIA had deleted public records without permission. He told us that the DIA has promised to do better in the future, but naturally this didn’t help us access the missing records.

The Secret Go-Live Date

Why has the DIA been so secretive about the filter going into operation? Here’s two examples where we believe that they have failed to be open and honest about what they are doing, even in response to direct questions.

We wrote to the DIA and asked them, again, when the filter was going to go live. They wrote back on January the 20th and said that as they were about to make an announcement, the Official Information Act gave them grounds to refuse our request. This was 11 days before Watchdog was the first ISP to start using the filter. It’s now the 16th of March, nearly two months later, and there’s still no announcement from the DIA.

Secondly, on February the 15th we rang Keith Manch, Deputy Secretary of Internal Affairs, and directly asked him when the filter was going live. Keith is responsible for Regulation and Compliance and has been heavily involved in the implementation of the filter. Did he admit that the filter had gone into operation two weeks earlier? No, he carefully took note of our questions and then wrote in a follow-up email that as we had already asked those questions by letter he wouldn’t answer. We finally got our answer on March the 8th, admitting that the system had gone live on February the 1st.

Open and Democratic Government

Tech Liberty is at the intersection of technology and civil liberties. We are strong supporters of the right to self-rule as expressed through democratic government. An important element of democratic government is the principle that government must be open and accountable, as without this governments tend to become corrupt and self-serving.

New Zealand recognises this and the Official Information Act and Public Records Acts are some of the ways we use to ensure that our government remains open and accountable. However, the law isn’t enough on its own, it also requires a commitment from government departments to honour the spirit of the law and not try to use or misuse the letter of it to conceal information.

We don’t believe that the Department of Internal Affairs has been living up to this standard when it comes to the issue of internet filtering.

7 thoughts on “Department of Internal Affairs failing on open government”

  1. “I think it only makes sense to seek out and identify structures of authority, hierarchy, and domination in every aspect of life, and to challenge them. Unless a justification for them can be given, they are illegitimate, and should be dismantled, to increase the scope of human freedom.”

    — Noam Chomsky

  2. On a side note, I asked my provider worldxchange / xnet this:

    > Is Woldxchange using, or planning to use, the filter service that
    > the Department of Internal Affairs provides? Here’s what I mean:
    > [].

    Their reply:

    This filter is not compulsory and we have no plans to implement it.

    That’s a tiny bit of good news. It also means that I don’t have to go through the trouble of changing providers.

    Thanks for your work. It is being recognised elsewhere too:

  3. Sickening. But thanks for posting to let me know what my government is doing. Transparency and honesty are obviously just words to people like Keith Manch and the “Chief Archivist” worse, this shows plainly the culture of self preservation and obfuscation among those in “senior” public service across departments.

  4. Thank you for relaying this valuable information, i was horrified to learn about this orwellian control net being insinuated into NZ society without any openness or transparency.

    I was particularly disgusted with this bit: “The Department has an obligation under the Public Records Act to keep such information. We complained to the Chief Archivist, who investigated and confirmed that the DIA had deleted public records without permission. He told us that the DIA has promised to do better in the future.”

    Well I wonder if I disobey the law and promise to “do better in the future” will this be enough for the authorities? or is it one law for the people and another law for the authorities?

    This is a truly sad and sickening day for NZ and for the cause of truth, justice, democracy and philosophy. It would seem to this observer that the egoic sickness infecting authorities in USA, Europe and Australia has now also taken hold with the NZ authorities who believe themselves to be “more equal” then everyone else, and above their own laws.

    Without transparency, openness and justice all government descends into pillage and piracy.

  5. Hmm, have you tried a OIA just for the IP Addresses?
    Surely there is some kind of justification for knowing what IP’s will be “redirected” (ie “slowed down”).
    It’s not like the IP’s themselves will give you access to “child porn”

    But i’m sure they’d just reject that request too, but it’s worth a try.

  6. Kyhwana – we currently have an OIA request in for the list and reports *without* the DNS names. I’m definitely interested in seeing the reports and the previous justification (that people could use the list to break the law) won’t be valid if the DNS names are obfuscated/removed.

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