Tuesday, September 28, 2010


The Search and Surveillance Bill is still gestating in select committee, with a report due at the end of next month. There are some encouraging signs. The Privacy Commissioner Marie Shroff has given the OK:
My previous submission raised concerns over a lack of adequate safeguards in some parts of the Bill, particularly around searches, the use of surveillance device warrants and productions orders.

The changes that have been made in the revised Bill make the balance between privacy and law enforcement interests more acceptable and I have no further substantial issues to raise.

The New Zealand Law Society has also given the amended bill the thumbs up, with a few reservations lingering about regulatory powers and tracking devices. Another submission, this time from Tech Liberty, suggests how the former might be solved:
Split the Search & Surveillance Bill into two, with one for enforcement agencies and the other for regulatory agencies.

Yes. But the geeks hone in on the real remaining threat as I see it:
Computer Searching

The bill contains a number of provisions around the searching of computer systems. The submissions and comments in response discuss issues around:
o The wide-ranging scope of data held on personal computers
o How to define what is to be searched
o What “plain view” means on a computer
o The issue of “trawling” through computers

When authorities seize a computer, they not only seize what is relevant to their enquiries. They take someone's life. Their photos, passwords, access to banking and bills, as well as any alleged offence. If someone seized my laptop, I'd be stuffed. My tenuous grip on personal finance and daily life would crumble. That's not a collateral damage I'm prepared to take on, thanks.

I'd be much happier with cloning a computer for searches, as opposed to outright theft. But even then, that has its risks. You need only witness the cloning of cellphone information at Customs under the guise of Operation Lime with existing search laws to see what menaces might come out of this fishing trip for control freaks with a grudge:
The wife of Switched on Gardener chain owner Michael Quinlan was detained by Customs at Auckland airport while officers downloaded the data from her phone for police trying to link her to an alleged cannabis operation.

The incident has sparked concerns police are circumventing warrants by using Customs' sweeping powers to detain, search and take information from international travellers. 

So it's not surprising that there's a protest by the people in Wellington on Saturday October 9th to highlight what is at stake with the reform of Search and Surveillance powers. I might see you there.