Leading investigative journalist Nicky Hager, a New Zealander, regularly breaks tough stories that nobody else does, especially on intelligence matters.
Take this piece from January 2010:
Go to the heart of one of Telecom or Vodafone’s mobile phone exchanges and you’ll find the whole system – covering a quarter of the country – is run by a single computer, no bigger than a small freezer.
Cables lead off to all the company’s cellphone towers and other parts of the network. A main cable, connecting all those phone users to the world, comes out the top of the computer and passes directly into a unit in the rack above. One cable goes into the unit but two come out: one continuing out to the world, the other coiling off to secret equipment marked “LI” on the system diagrams. “LI” stands for “lawful interception”.
Not long ago, police and Security Intelligence Service (SIS) interception meant tapping your landline phone or bugging your kitchen. Now, under a new surveillance regime ushered in by the 2004 Telecommunications (Interception Capability) Act, a basic interception warrant also allows them access to all your emails, internet browsing, online shopping or dating, calls, texts and location for mobile phones, and much more – all delivered almost instantaneously to the surveillance agencies.
To catch other sorts of communications, including people using overseas-based email or other services, all the local communications networks are wired up as well, to monitor messages en route overseas.
Interception equipment built permanently into every segment of the country’s communications architecture will provide the sort of pervasive spying capability we normally associate with police states.
These developments have been introduced quietly. Neither the government nor the phone and internet companies are keen to advertise their Big Brotherish activities. This doesn’t sound like New Zealand and in fact it was largely pushed on New Zealand from overseas.
The origins of New Zealand’s new system can be traced back 10 years to when British researchers uncovered European Union police documents planning exactly the same sort of surveillance system in Europe. The secret plan, known as Enfopol 98, and reported on by the Weekly Telegraph in 1999, aimed to create “a seamless web of telecommunications surveillance” across Europe, and involved EU nations adopting “International User Requirements for Interception”, to standardise surveillance capabilities.
The researchers found that the moves followed “a five-year lobbying exercise by American agencies such as the FBI”. “When completed, the system will provide a global regime,” it said. New Zealand had been in dialogue with US and European authorities on joining the scheme as early as 1995.
Civil liberties council spokesman Michael Bott says the new capabilities are part of a step-by-step erosion of civil rights in New Zealand. He said people need places to be themselves, talk about their secrets or sound off about politics, without having to wonder who’s listening.
“The fear is that citizens become accustomed to living in a surveillance society and, over time, freedoms of speech and belief are chilled and diminished.”