Tuesday, June 11, 2013

No denial from Key

With all the news leaking out about the NSA's mass-surveillance, what we need from our government is a cast-iron denial - backed by transparency so we can see its not just a lie - that our spies are not involved and neither contribute to or receive this data. Sadly, we're not getting one from John Key:

Prime Minister John Key has categorically denied that the Government Communications Security Bureau has been circumventing New Zealand law by accessing information from an international spying network.

But crucially he has yet to make a statement on whether the spy bureau actually uses or has access to the Prism system which the US uses to harvest information from Facebook, Gmail and other technology giants.

Mr Key, who is the Minister in charge of the GCSB, told TV3's Firstline the bureau did not get information about New Zealanders through the data harvesting system Prism to get around a ban against spying on its own citizens.

[Emphasis added]

...which some people might take as a denial. But its not. Saying "I don't go shopping to buy fish" isn't the same as saying "I don't go shopping". In this case, GCSB isn't using PRISM to circumvent NZ law because the law only prohibits them from intercepting the communications of New Zealand citizens and residents. It is entirely legal for them to intercept metadata, and to analyse foreign-intercepted metadata. And Key happily admits that they do exchange data, and in one report even that they gather and exchange data on "New Zealander[s] of interest".

And its not harmless. Contrary to my local radio dicks (who woke me this morning claiming the government couldn't learn anything by tracking anyone's phone calls), you can learn an awful lot from metadata. That example uses membership in C18th seditious organisations to track treason, but the modern version gives the government access to all of our digitally-mediated social relationships. And while they say they're hunting "terrorists", we only have their word for it, and the data-set isn't restricted to information only useful for that purpose. It could for example be used to track TV pirates, or greens, or people who support human rights, or even people who don't like spies and think their powers should be constrained. And we're utterly at their mercy if they ever change their mind.

This is what spies do: if you give them money and power, they gather all the information they possibly can, because knowledge is power. The only solution is not to give them money and power. The GCSB has shown that it cannot be trusted. It should be defunded, disbanded, and replaced by an agency which does the legitimate job: not spying, but making sure our government's electronic communications (and the private data we entrust to it) are secure.