Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Selling us out for chump change

I've spent the afternoon watching submissions on the spy bill. One of the arguments advanced by John Key is that we need to give the GCSB the power to spy domesticly on all our communications and metadata because the police and SIS need the capability and it is simply more efficient for them to use GCSB than to have their own capability subject to proper legal constraints. However, as one early submitter - Thomas Beagle? - pointed out, there's been no published analysis of the costs and benefits of this. Assuming one was actually done (and I'm not so willing to take it on faith that it was), it would be secret, so we're being asked to take it on faith that its massively cheaper to give GCSB extra powers.

But we don't need to take it on faith. Its bullshit at first glance. Here's why.

To the extent that such metadata is derived from telecommunications infrastructure (e.g. landline, cellphone and internet services), then the police already have the capability to obtain it. Telecommunications providers are required to provide an interception capability, which explicitly includes "call-associated data", under the Telecommunications (Interception Capability) Act 2004. ISPs can be forced to divulge metadata using a search warrant. So its not a question of needing to fund a large capital expenditure, but of the analysts to use it.

So how expensive are those analysts? We don't know, because GCSB won't tell us. But we can ballpark it. The GCSB's total 2012/2013 appropriation is $68 million. Most of that will go on their major programs - on foreign intelligence and cooperation with their foreign "partners", and metadata interception capability will be only a tiny fraction. But let's be generous and assume that it costs 10% of their total budget - an absolutely ludicrous proportion. That would mean it would cost us less than $7 million a year. And to save that piddling sum, John Key is willing to sacrifice our privacy, our human rights, and our democracy. Do you think that's a good deal?

I don't. In fact, I think $7 million a year to ensure proper, transparent, independent judicial oversight of such surveillance is a good deal and worth paying. as for where to get the money from, Osama bin Laden is dead and the War on Terror is over. Let's take it out of GCSB and SIS.