Friday, June 06, 2014

Understating the problem

Vodafone released its Law Enforcement Disclosure Report today, revealing that it implemented hundreds of thousands of wiretaps globally last year. The New Zealand part of the report indicates that its network was the subject of 34 interception warrants from our government last year, which (remembering that they're not the only provider) seems consistent with the 104 warrants the police were granted last year. At the same time, it seems to understate the problem. An important point to note is that in New Zealand, the police don't need an interception warrant to pull your emails and text messages off a server, or to force production of call or internet metadata. All they need is a production order. The police use this power to track people and read their communications so routinely that they don't even bother to count. And they use it not just to fight serious crime, but also against sleepy drivers and journalists who annoy the Prime Minister. None of this was captured in Vodafone's reporting.

But its worse than that, because the police apparently have protocols agreed with both Vodafone and Telecom to reduce the need for production orders (it apparently being legal for your phone company to agree to voluntarily provide your communications to police without asking you). These agreements are secret, and the police refuse to disclose them. So we've got no idea what sort of extra-legal access to our communications they've negotiated for themselves, let alone how often it is used.

This isn't good enough. The use of intrusive powers should be limited, and transparent, so we can see whether it is being abused. The police's ability to access our stored messages and metadata is neither. Time to clip their wings.