Monday, 4 January 2010

Goodbye World indeed!

This is alarming:

Official papers obtained by the Star-Times show that, despite government claims that it was done for domestic reasons, the new New Zealand spying capabilities are part of a push by United States agencies to have standardised surveillance capabilities available for their use from governments worldwide.

What they are talking about is the recent increases in the scope of police and SIS ability to wiretap. Specifically, a single warrant is all that is needed to tap every form of electronic communication of a named person or place.

To a certain extent this is just an update on the old wiretapping laws to take account of 21st century technology. There are just so many different easy ways to communicate now. The red flags go up as we learn that the methods are automated, and implemented under pressure from outside of New Zealand.

Automating means that it is easy to do, and thus easy to abuse. It also represents another vector for malicious coders to exploit. I've met this in the corporate world where your boss wants to spy on your computer use. On the one hand, he can catch you doing something you shouldn't, on the other hand you don't work so well with the boss looking over your shoulder. The gripping hand is that the loss in security and productivity is in no way made up for by catching the odd employee using the work computer to play quake.

At a foreign powers behest, suggests that this is not so much in the interest of NZ law enforcement as much as it is in the interests of that foreign power. Has the nation that banned nuclear ships suddenly lost its backbone?

Certainly anyone contemplating criminal activity will encrypt their electronic traffic as a matter of course, and keep one-use mobile phones. Much of this already happens - resulting in a law that is most easily used against ordinary people going about their lives.

A world without privacy is creeping closer.

Last year Bruce Schneier reprinted his assessment of the issues surrounding surveillance in the 21st century, and he also has this to say about privacy:

Privacy is an inherent human right, and a requirement for maintaining the human condition with dignity and respect.

Cardinal Richelieu understood the value of surveillance when he famously said, "If one would give me six lines written by the hand of the most honest man, I would find something in them to have him hanged." Watch someone long enough, and you'll find something to arrest -- or just blackmail -- with. Privacy is important because without it, surveillance information will be abused: to peep, to sell to marketers and to spy on political enemies -- whoever they happen to be at the time.

Privacy protects us from abuses by those in power, even if we're doing nothing wrong at the time of surveillance.

We do nothing wrong when we make love or go to the bathroom. We are not deliberately hiding anything when we seek out private places for reflection or conversation. We keep private journals, sing in the privacy of the shower, and write letters to secret lovers and then burn them. Privacy is a basic human need.

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