Otago Daily Times
Civil liberty fears if data given up
WELLINGTON: Civil liberties groups believe privacy, freedom of expression and the security of trade secrets could be eroded if tech companies give up their encrypted data to governments.
The New Zealand Government and its Five Eyes security partners are calling on companies such as Facebook to release data when requested, in order to curb online crime.
Justice Minister Andrew Little said while encryption played an important role in protecting personal data, it was also used to hide illicit material such as child pornography and communication between terrorists.
Mr Little — who oversees New Zealand’s spy agencies — said instances of child sexual abuse and exploitation online were growing rapidly.
To curb this, the Government wants to cooperate with tech companies.
And that would include requests for information being on a warranted basis.
‘‘Governments would demonstrate there is a reasonable cause to suspect there has been criminal offending, so the control is still left in the platform owners, but it gives enforcement authorities the ability to chase up and investigate some of the most heinous criminal offending we’ve ever seen.’’
But Council of Civil Liberties chairman Thomas Beagle panned the Government’s plea for more access as contradictory and dangerous.
‘‘It talks about the value of encryption — secure information, private conversations, doing things free from repressive governments — and then it talks about how they need to stop all that because they need to access it to stop crime.’’
Even if a New Zealand government handled such information carefully, that did not mean other countries would. And if one government had access to such information, then other governments would request it as part of doing business with that country, Mr Beagle said.
Surveillance had a chilling effect on freedom of expression and association, he said.
‘‘Our Government already has extensive powers of surveillance using other means, and I don’t believe this will be the silver bullet that will stop all this crime happening.’’
Privacy Commissioner John Edwards said agencies could already be required to hand over information if there was a lawful warrant.
‘‘Governments are quite right to be concerned about the use of platforms for exploitation of children. The difficulty is in how you provide that access in a way that does not break the security for legitimate purposes.’’
He said requirements for companies to release information would be applied in all countries, including oppressive ones.
An international set of guidelines could be established to set out how information was gathered but that would not be watertight, he said.
‘‘Even then, you don’t solve the technical challenge of allowing access for legitimate purposes while maintaining a secure network, and people in the tech industry tell me this is impossible.’’
Cultural adviser and advocate for Maori digital rights Karaitiana Taiuru said shutting down harmful behaviour on platforms such as Facebook could actually help Maori, who faced racism, abuse and scams online.
It was often not reported because there were no culturally sensitive systems or agencies equipped to deal with complaints, he said. — RNZ