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

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