01 Aug 2013
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Microsoft joins the party… slams NZ Telco bill

Joining fellow tech giants Facebook and Google, Microsoft has publicly questioned the Telecommunications (Interception Capability and Security) Bill, believing it to be a threat to New Zealand's IT industry.

Following proposed government changes which could subject over two million Kiwi users' to surveillance, the software company dismissed the plans as bad for business.

Predicting that online services might withdraw from the country as a result, like Facebook, Microsoft has disputed the clarity of the changes.

The bill is proposing changes to the existing legislation by which telcos are required to act on warrants to intercept customer communications, while also containing new provisions requiring telcos to consult with government on network security matters relating to new network infrastructure.

"It is no longer about just tapping into the telephone exchange," argued Waldo Kuipers, spokesman, Microsoft.

"Today what we are talking about is a diversity of data connections carrying every imaginable service such as games, banking, education services, entertainment, company and government meetings, shopping, email and documents.

"Many of these were never subject to interception capability obligations in the pre-digital world.

"That is a dramatic change in the law."

Proposing that communications companies work with the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) as a result, Kuipers believes the move could lead to a forced change in company technology or business models.

"An obligation to have interception capability on a fundamentally different technology in our view needs to be considered on its merits, not swept up in broad legislation that gives wide powers to surveillance agencies and ministers," he said.

"We know that legislation has caused network operators in New Zealand not to offer services in New Zealand that would have been beneficial," he said.

"If the proposed law leads to a situation where a US-based provider must choose between breaking New Zealand law and breaking US law, where it is headquartered and based, they may be forced to withdraw their service from New Zealand."

Mass opposition

Speaking in the wake of Facebook’s submission last month, Mia Garlick, the head of policy in the company’s Australian division claimed the bill “needed to be clarified to ensure that it is beyond doubt that services such as Facebook that provide stored messaging services are not subject to this legislation.”

Branding the proposals as “blunt tools”, Garlick warned that the changes “have the potential to infringe on civil liberties and constrain economic growth.”

Google also out at the plans in a written submission.

“[While] interception tools are necessary for the effective maintenance of law,” Google wrote.

“[The bill] would likely raise public fears of unjustified intrusion into their privacy.”

Microsoft, Facebook and Google are not alone however, adding to the growing list of objection, telcos Telecom, Vodafone and Chorus have all opposed the oral submission to the Bill.

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