Tag Archive for "Internal Affairs"

DIA to Accept Oversight of Internet Filter

I have received a letter from Nathan Guy, Minister for Internal Affairs, where he expands upon the DIA’s plans to set up some sort of oversight on the Internet filtering scheme.

My department recognises that, to ensure public confidence in the filtering system, the operation of the system must be as open to scrutiny as possible. The Department is, therefore, developing a Code of Practice to govern the operation of the completed system, and will be making the Code available on the Department’s website for public comment. An Independent Reference Group will be formed to ensure the Department operates the website filtering system in compliance with the Code.

I look forward to seeing the Code of Practice and hearing more about the Independent Reference Group.

DIA Deletes Records of Filtering Trial

While re-reading the most recent response from the Department of Internal Affairs (see page 3), I was struck by the following:

The Department is moving to implement the fully operational system and will shortly commence rebuilding the list. As the filtering list is rebuilt, new officer’s reports will be generated and, in preparation for this process, the reports related to the trial list have been deleted. The Department therefore cannot provide the requested information as it does not exist. [emphasis added]

I believe that this is a serious concern.

The Department of Internal Affairs has been running an Internet filtering scheme that has been actively used to filter people’s Internet connections without their knowledge. They have apparently deleted the reports that they used to justify adding websites to the list. This means that they have deliberately removed the ability for anyone to audit what they have been doing.

As a government department, the DIA has a responsibility under the Public Records Act 2005 to ‘create and maintain full and accurate records in accordance with normal, prudent business activity‘. They’re not allowed to just delete them without getting permission from the Chief Archivist.

It’s this sort of behaviour that makes it so important that any filtering scheme be conducted in an open and accountable manner.

More from the DIA

My second letter to the Department of Internal Affairs seemed to get lost so I sent them another copy. I just got the response (page 1, page 2, page 3). Unfortunately the letter is now a bit obsolete as I have found out all of the answers by other means.

However, seeing as I have nothing to say about the letter I thought this would be a good time to make a few comments about the DIA and government in New Zealand:

  • The Official Information Act is wonderful. It’s enabled me to request useful information from the DIA and expect to get it as of right.
  • I’m impressed that the DIA have generally made a good job of answering my questions (although not always in the detail I’d like).
  • Someone jokingly told me the other day that I’d better not want to leave the country (as the DIA administer our passport issuing system). It pleases me that a) that idea had never crossed my mind, b) that I can’t see that happening in New Zealand.

Of course, it’s exactly this openness that I like that matters so much. The OIA is good – but the secret censorship scheme takes away from that. We need accountability so that we don’t end up in the same situation as the Australians with their farcical scheme aimed at dentists and dog kennels. An open and democratic government needs to work in an open and democratic manner.

Finally, I’d like to say that I support the DIA in their fight against child abuse and the people who make and traffic in images of child abuse. They have done some good work in catching people and bringing them to justice.

The Department of Internal Affairs has just issued a press release in which they:

  • State their intention to start the filter service within a couple of months.
  • Say that the filter will not cover email or file sharing.
  • Say that the information collected will not be used for law enforcement.
  • Claim that Internet NZ is happy with their plans.
  • Say that an independent reference group will be established to oversee the operation.

I have updated the general FAQ and technical FAQ with the new information.

Edit: DIA have released an amended version clarifying the position of Internet NZ.

Original version: “We understand that Internet NZ is happy with our plans but the society will be able to review the hardware setup to ensure it complies with industry best practice.”

Amended version: “Internet NZ has requested further information which the Department will provide. The society will be able to review the hardware setup to ensure it complies with industry best practice.”

It’s now available on their website, but here is the complete text of what they emailed me (amended version):

Continue Reading “DIA Announces Internet Filtering Implementation” »

IT Minister Against Internet Filtering

In March 2009, Communications and IT Minister Steven Joyce had the following to say about internet filtering:

We have been following the internet filtering debate in Australia but have no plans to introduce something similar here.

The technology for internet filtering causes delays for all internet users. And unfortunately those who are determined to get around any filter will find a way to do so. Our view is that educating kids and parents about being safe on the internet is the best way of tackling the problem.

Maybe Steven Joyce should be having a little chat to Nathan Guy, the Minister of Internal Affairs?

NZ Internet Filtering Technical FAQ

InternetNZ Position on Net Filtering

I asked Internet NZ whether they have an official position for or against internet censorship by the government.

The response is that they are in discussions with the Department of Internal Affairs. The acting CEO Richard Currey also provided the following:

Governments have the right to determine what is and what is not objectionable, and to take action against that. InternetNZ’s view is that only objectionable material, as defined in the Act, could be a legitimate case for censorship.

I think we have to interpret that as Internet NZ being, if not in favour, at least not being against the net filtering scheme. This is an interesting contrast to the mission statement on their website:

We work to keep the Internet open and uncaptureable, protecting and promoting the Internet for New Zealand.

Our objective is “high performance and unfettered access for all” so the Internet continues to operate in an open environment that cannot be captured by any entity or individual for their own ends.

Government-run internet filtering sounds a bit like “capture” to me, and it definitely doesn’t sound like “unfettered access”.

I want to know what they are talking about in their discussions with the DIA.

$150k for internet filtering software

The Department of Internal Affairs have responded to my questions about the $611,000 allocated for Censorship Enforcement Activity in the 2009/2010 budget.

Firstly, they confirm that the money is provided for each of the next four years.

Secondly, they talk about the increased cost of tracking down and prosecuting people for the possession and distribution of child sex abuse images.

Thirdly, and of most interest to me, there is a one-off capital contribution of $150,000 to the purchase of the software used in the internet filtering they intend to introduce this year.

The relevant section from the letter:

As you are aware, the Department’s compliance activity for 2009/2010 includes the implementation of a website filtering system for New Zealand. To date the development and operation of the trial system has been met from within the existing budget. Budget 2009 provides for a one-off capital contribution of $150,000 for the purchase of the software on which the filtering system is based.

Links to (not very good) scans of page 1 and page 2 of the letter.

Internal Affairs to Continue Netfiltering Trial

In the Internal Affairs Statement of Intent for 2009-2012 we find that they identify three outcomes where they “wish to make an impact as a department”. These are:

  1. Strong, sustainable communities/hapu/iwi
  2. New Zealand’s approach to identity is trusted and well led
  3. Safer communities which is further split into three including “People are protected from spam and objectionable material”

This is then extended on and added to in a number of places throughout the document. Some excerpts:

The Government has a strong focus on crime and making communities safe. Criminals are increasingly using the internet to engage in activities that put individuals and business at risk. The Department is focused on making communities safer by creating an environment in which people are protected from spam and objectionable material. The Department will continue to work in partnership with other agencies and use technology to detect and prosecute offenders.

As New Zealanders have one of the highest rates of computer usage in the world, we experience relatively high availability of, and exposure to, objectionable material. Increasing speed of access (eg, through broadband) also increases potential exposure to harmful material. Rapid development of technology creates risks and opportunities in the censorship area and underlines the need for us to maintain strong international networks. Offenders take advantage of the relative anonymity and security the Internet and new technology offer. The most recent significant development in Internet offending is the ability to share large numbers of publications through peer-to-peer applications. This creates challenges due to the volume of material and the fact that the identities of the users are not readily detectable.

Then we finally see what they intend to do:

Some of our key initiatives for 2009–12 are to:

  • review the New Zealand child pornography risk profile to enable more targeted investigations
  • continue to develop software applications to ensure investigation and enforcement in the censorship area remains effective against offenders’ ever-evolving methods of evading detection.
  • continue to trial website filtering to assist in preventing New Zealanders from gaining access to websites containing objectionable material. This will restrict website hits and consequently diminish revenue to criminals.

So, in summary, there are no major changes in approach signaled by the budget, although there is that extra $611,000 of funding that will be used in this area.

Update – see article confirming that they have moved past a trial and are now actually paying for the system.

Censorship Enforcement Activity

There wasn’t a lot of detail about the Department of Internal Affairs in the 2009 budget. There was one entry for a possibly relevant new initiative, however:

  • Censorship Enforcement Activity – $611,000

I wonder if this is what they were referring to in their letter to me:

6. What is the projected budget (if available) for the content-filtering service for the 2009/2010 financial year?

The future implementation of the website filtering system will require an appropriation of additional funding to allow it to be offered to all ISPs. It is the convention not to release budget information prior to the Government announcements, which take place around the middle of May. I am therefore withholding this information in terms of section 9(2)(f)(iv) of the Official Information Act (to maintain the constitutional convention for the time being which protect the confidentiality of advice tendered by Ministers of the Crown and officials).

Time to find out.