NetHui 2013: Labour-saving device


Paul Buchanan on the State surveillance of online communications panel

Using the GCSB capabilities to make sniffing more efficient is all a labour-saving device to gather more info with less human oversight.

Dr Paul Buchanan, international geopolitics and non-traditional warfare consultant, speaking at NetHui 2013.


NetHui 2013: GCSB bill too important to rush


Convener Laurence Millar and the panel discussing state surveillance at NetHui 2013. From left to right: Laurence Miller, Dr. Paul Buchanan, Ian Apperley, Sir Bruce Ferguson and Michael Wigley.

Legislation proposing to extend the powers of the Government Communications Security Bureau is too important to rush through Parliament without more debate. That’s the consensus of the panel discussing state surveillance and the GCSB at NetHui 2013.

Significantly the panel included former GCSB director Sir Bruce Ferguson who told delegates there’s a need for an apolitical, but robust debate about this kind of legislation. Ferguson says it’s not possible for a completely open debate, but some of it could be transparent: “The current bill requires proper research.”

He says there’s a genuine need for intelligence agencies and, generally, New Zealand has the right balance between the right to live freely and he need for security.

Ferguson says he didn’t agree with the prime minister’s appointment of the new GCSB head. He says it should be an independent appointment, not an old school friend of John Key’s. He says that, previously, for the GCSB to spy on a New Zealander, the director needed a warrant from the head of police or the SIS.

The panel also included cloud consultant Ian Apperley, solicitor Michael Wigley and security expert Paul Buchanan.

Fig leaf

Buchanan won applause from the audience when he described terrorism as “a fig leaf used by the intelligence industry to legitimise what they do”. He says the reality is that 90 percent of their work involves spying on other states and agencies. And anyway, “with Prism and all the other intelligence at their disposal, the US government couldn’t stop the Boston bombings”.

He also says terrorism is a terrible thing, but it isn’t a threat to any state or democracy. Buchanan thinks fighting terrorism should be treated as a criminal matter, not a war, and dealt with by Police.

Not just governments

Apperley describes targeted spying is “a necessary evil”, but says wholesale surveillance of a population is unacceptable. However, it pointed out these days it isn’t just government keeping an eye on the population, big corporations and rogue actors like hackers are watching too. He says privacy becomes an individual’s responsibility and it isn’t something that can be left to ISPs.

As a cloud consultant, Apperley would like New Zealand to become the “Switzerland of the south”, a place people everywhere could trust to look after information. He says this is incompatible with the connection to the five eyes surveillance program.

Legal objection

Prime minister John Key says the NZ Law Society’s criticism of the GCSB bill is completely wrong. This annoys Michael Wigley who says: “Well Mr Key, you know best, we’re just lawyers with a concern for civil liberties, the rule of law, due process, we’ve studied this for years, but you’re the boss”.

Wigley is concerned about the serious risk of extra-judicial overreach and says the idea that the existing GCSB law is unclear is patently false. He says: “Any second year law student could understand the law.”

Nethui 2013: Taking action at InTAC

Dean Pemberton and Tim Wright

Dean Pemberton and Tim Wright

Monday at Nethui is largely given over to workshops. At InTAC (Internet Technical Architecture Conference) a series of team exercises attempted to answer two questions:

  • What do we want the New Zealand internet to look like in five years?
  • What five actions can the industry can perform in the next five months to make that future more likely?”

These weren’t rhetorical questions, but real questions moderators Dean Pemberton and Tim Wright asked attendees to answer through a workshop with coloured Post-It notes, marker pens and collaborative software. 

Pemberton called for “less talk, more do” which meant silent brain-storming sessions and moving between tables as the day progressed.

Attendees were asked to name issues, what we like and what we don’t, then an ideal future state. With these nailed people broke in to groups to explore the transformations needed to get to that future state. The goal was to draw up a list of practical, short-term steps that people can take now to bring about the ideal future state.

Participants identifies six areas where we can take practical steps to make the internet better in New Zealand:  modernising copyright law, improving access to low social-economic areas, better passwords, develop networks to meet future demands, make sure all developments have positive security models and how to improve and simplify the user experience

Among the ideas explored were things like asking Internet NZ to explore ways to press for copyright reform, finding innovative ways of delivering internet access to poorer New Zealanders.



More thoughts on innovation

At last week’s moxie session we discussed the idea that invention doesn’t equal innovation.

I’d not heard it put in the exact words before, but I had previously heard the idea. A quick trawl through the notes made many years ago came up with something similar from Peter Drucker.

Drucker said innovation is economic, not technical. It is described in market terms, not product terms. He said:

…the more you create your economic conditions, rather than passively adapting to them, the more control you have over your business. Innovation must be systematic, purposeful and organized. it must be consistent with a company’s long term mission.

Successful innovations make profits for several years; they’re not a flash in the pan.

So there we have it. For New Zealand to become a successful source of innovation we need to focus more on economic matters and less on bending fencing wire to make clever gadgets.