Government makes late tweaks to telco intercept bill

Communications Minister Amy Adams is offering an olive branch to the telecommunications sector with some late tweaks to legislation setting out their obligations to provide government surveillance agencies with access to their networks.

In a supplementary order paper to the Telecommunications (Interception Capability and Security) Bill, Ms Adams is proposing to dump a clause specifically written to allow ministerial directions of foreign firms whose interception capabilities, or lack of, raised a risk to national security.

Instead, matters of non-compliance will be caught through the compliance framework, she said.

“Based on feedback from support parties, the public and industry, I intend to make some further changes that go beyond the committee’s recommendations,” Ms Adams said in a statement.

Removing the provision was supported by civil liberties campaigner Tech Liberty in its written submission, though global firms including Microsoft, Google and Facebook were more concerned by the proposals to impose interception capability obligations on services in their respective submissions.

The bill, which will have its second reading tomorrow, aims to set out the obligations on telecommunications companies to offer interception capabilities on their networks to surveillance units, including the Government Communications Security Bureau, Security Intelligence Service and police, and oblige them to engage with those agencies about potential risks to the country’s national security when building and running their networks.

Whereas its predecessor legislation only imposed the obligations on network operators, the rewrite also allows the minister to decide whether over-the-top service providers will have to be intercept-ready.

Ms Adams’s changes build on the minor concessions offered in the select committee report back on the bill, which included allowing the GCSB director to issue guidelines on requirements applying to network operators, and to narrow down what firms need to report in relation to potential security risks.

Ms Adams opened the door for firms to press back if the GCSB doesn’t act in a timely manner, saying the minister responsible for the spy agency will be able to introduce regulations enabling specific timeframes if decisions are taking too long.

In separate submissions on the bill, Telecom, Vodafone New Zealand and Chorus were all concerned about the greater role being granted to the GCSB, and wanted strict timeframes imposed on the domestic-focused spy agency to ensure delays were minimised and investment protected.

The SOP will introduce an independent review by the Commissioner of Security Warrants if the GCSB asks the minister to make a direction, and any direction ultimately made would have to take competition and cost implications into account.

“Although public input has resulted in significant improvements to the bill, some of the submissions received did not reflect an accurate understanding of what the bill does and does not do,” Ms Adams said.

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