Mixed signals from New Zealand government on telecommunications security.
You have to ask yourself what principles are behind the New Zealand government’s telecommunications security strategy.
On the one hand the government has a relaxed attitude towards carriers allowing Huawei to build key parts of their infrastructure. On the other hand it introduced the Telecommunications (Interception Capability and Security) Bill to Parliament this week.
Security fears mean Huawei is shut out of Australia and the United States. Yet New Zealand’s centre right government is happy for the telecommunications equipment giant to build and finance networks here.
Far-reaching intercept bill
Meanwhile the bill intended to replace the earlier Telecommunications (Interception Capability) Act 2004 officially takes government intelligence intrusion into the telco sector further than any of our strategic allies. At least, as far as they publicly acknowledge.
The new bill gives New Zealand spies the power to intercept communications in the name of national security. The first part is about telecommunications company obligations while the second part means telecommunications companies will need to work with the Government Communications Security Bureau on security issues and matters that could affect the economy.
Thomas Beagle of the digital civil liberties lobby group Tech Liberty points out this could give the GCSB control over the design and operation of communications networks run in New Zealand. It also gives the GCSB the power to stop service providers reselling overseas services that make it difficult for our security services to spy on communications,
As Beagle points out, it gives spies wide and open-ended powers. And it could make life considerably harder for network operators.
One interesting aspect of the bill is that it could affect the way companies like Microsoft, Google and Apple do business in New Zealand. It would be economically counterproductive if companies decided to offer New Zealand customers a lower level of service than those overseas to comply with the law. It could also have implications for future investment in telecommunications networks.
Is there a disconnect here with the New Zealand government’s relaxed attitude towards Huawei?
Maybe not, the most likely explanation is that the government addresses each telecommunications policy decision afresh and makes on-the-fly decisions based on immediate considerations and not have an overriding philosophy. The results must sometimes look odd to outside observers.