Pacific spy agency bill labelled unnecessary

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Pacific spy agency bill labelled unnecessary

'Dysfunctional' agency monitors Australia.

Proposed new legislation that would give the spy agency which illegally monitored Kim Dotcom wider powers to intercept communications of New Zealanders and others is being roundly opposed as unwarranted.

Lobby group InternetNZ said in its submission there was a dearth of checks and balances in the new bill, which seeks to remove current constraints on the activities of the Government Communications Security Bureau. The spy agency is tasked with monitoring communications in the Pacific under the Five-Eyes international agreement that Australia, Canada, the United States, United Kingdom and Australia are part of.

"The Bill effectively provides the Minister with unbridled power to direct the GCSB to intercept communications both foreign and domestic, and to access information infrastructures.

"The Minister would be able to do this without independent oversight," InternetNZ acting chief executive Jordan Carter said.

As it stands, the bill would "ride roughshod" over internet users' privacy, InternetNZ said. It also threatens to harm the Internet economy in New Zealand due to the lack of strong privacy protections and an institutional framework that respects people's rights, the lobby group stated.

To improve the bill, InternetNZ suggested an independent third party, such as a judge,  be involved in the issuance of warrants for intercept communications and information infrastructures.

The country's Law Society also submitted on the bill, with QC Rodney Harrison saying "it is difficult to identify the pressing and substantial concerns that the bill purports to remedy or address".

The Law Society also said it did not consider sufficient justification had been provided for the proposed reforms, and that extensive and pervasive amendments to the state's power of surveillance should not be passed by Parliament lightly, nor without the fullest extent of debate possible.

Prime Minister John Key is seeking support for the law changes, arguing the GCSB could not simply trawl databases for information on people and then apply for a warrant afterwards. Instead, Key told the NZ Herald, the GCSB could only access information when it was legally entitled to do so and could not circumvent that process by gathering it before.

The founder of the now defunct Megaupload filesharing site, KIm Dotcom and associate Bram van der Kolk have also submitted on the bill [PDF] calling GSCB "a dysfunctional agency which has failed at every turn in recent times".

Dotcom and van der Kolk said "the extreme general expansion of the GCSB's powers is not justified" and that there was non-existent oversight of it.

The Megaupload pair are awaiting a hearing to find out if they and associates Finn Batato and Mathias Ortmann will be extradited to the United States to face trial on allegations of secondary copyright infringement.

Originally set for August this year, the extradition hearing has now been pushed forward to April 2014.

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