Thursday, May 21, 2020

The NZ COVID-19 Tracer App

Since Tuesday 19th May the New Zealand government’s official ‘NZ COVID-19 Tracer’ app has been available for download. This first iteration, though, is little more than the promised sign-up form Jacinda Ardern told us about in early April when she said, “it will help update our national health database with users' contact details.

Apart from ensuring our details are up-to-date, the other official benefit is that people get used to scanning themselves into premises.

Having available an electronic list of places visited will be a memory aid to assist us in case we test positive, but it will not do much to ‘protect your friends, whānau and community by enabling faster contact tracing’ as the download page states.

The Director of the Centre for Social Data Analytics, Dr Rhema Vaithianathan, tweeted on the night the app became available, “This makes no sense - how does it help moh [Ministry of Health] locate contacts that have visited the same place as the case? Am I missing something here??

She wasn’t. The app cannot help with locating people who were in the same premises that a person with a COVID-19 positive test visited. The only way to help with that is a register but under Lockdown Level 2 it is only hospitality places that must keep a register.

Here’s a possible scenario:
A Wellingtonian has the afternoon off work and spends 40 minutes taking a bus into town, an hour browsing at a book shop which includes sitting on a chair and chatting with a stranger, followed by another hour browsing in another shop and then finally dinner at a restaurant for another hour with a group of friends before taking the bus home.

A few days later they test positive for COVID-19. They’re phoned by an official Ministry of Health Contact Tracer and using the results on the app can tell that person where they’d been earlier in the week. But the only data that is going to be any good for contact tracing is the dinner with the friends. The restaurant is a hospitality business so they have a register. The Contact Tracer can contact the restaurant and get the names of all the other customers who were there at the same time as the infected person.

The people on the bus, the other customers and browsers at shops that either came into direct contact with the positive person or were in the premises at the same time, cannot be contacted.

If the only data that gets shared with the contact tracer is from the person with the positive test, the app cannot help with close contact tracing. Which is why after criticism and questioning, Ashley Bloomfield admitted that, “Bluetooth tracing capability could be added in a June update.

He has also said, “In the next release, NZ COVID Tracer will be able to notify you if you have been at the same location at the same time as someone who has COVID-19 and will allow you to send your digital diary directly to the National Close Contact Service." Marc Daalder, a Newsroom journalist, has also reported that “The app will eventually have a daily health check-in feature.” A feature which already exists on the Government's official WhatsApp channel. These are different developments and technologies. 

The open endedness is unacceptable. Future plans for the app need to be made public. Like most apps, the majority of people will automatically or blindly update the application without realising the consequences.

We need to have open discussions now about this app. We need to be considering the possible consequences of normalising tracking and tracing weighed up against any benefits. But most importantly, we need to ask if an app is really the answer.

We need to think about the future. COVID-19 is here now and will probably be around for at least a few more years. It is also likely that other pandemics will appear and we need to prepare for that prospect.

Rather than looking to technology for an answer to assist human contact tracers, could that time and money not be better spent on healthcare, housing and communities? Wouldn’t it be better in the long-term to improve the general public health so that fewer people are vulnerable? Improve systems and communities so we can cope with sudden increases of people needing urgent medical attention? Have warm and safe homes for all before there is a sudden need to self-isolate or lockdown whole communities again? A universal basic income is also a good idea.

This first release of NZ COVID-19 Tracer is a tool getting us used to tracking. The next release will be tracing. We are building a possible architecture of surveillance. Open and transparent discussion is needed now before we advance any further.

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Think Carefully About Any COVID-19 Tracing App

As one of the tools to fight COVID-19 the NZ government has promised that there will be a contact tracing app available by mid-May. The first iteration they have said, will be in the form of an on-line sign-up form, and could be out by 11th May.

But there has been minimal discussion about the pros and cons of COVID-19 apps. Rather, our fear of the virus and its effect on our world has meant that most people are unquestioningly accepting the necessity of using apps to keep the spread of the virus under control.

However, we need to break away from the fear factor and consider the long-term societal results of any COVID-19 apps. We need to consider possible consequences weighed up against any benefits. We need to not only question the short-term need for contact tracing but think of their long-term use and effect. We need to look at what we are being asked to give up.

Decisions made today about any tracing or tracking apps will have huge implications for our futures.

Sunday, May 3, 2020

COVID-19: Tracking and Tracing Apps in NZ

Desperate to stop the spread of COVID-19 and to get the economy going again, the NZ government announced at the end of lockdown level 4 that they will introduce a tracing app within two weeks. That means there will be some type of an app by 11 May (unless they change their mind). The first iteration they have said, will be to just register your contact details with the Ministry of Health.
Covid 19 coronavirus: NZ's own tracing app on way....NZ Herald, 27 April 2020
Little more is known about what the government is planning, so OASIS has gathered together an overview of some of the types of contact tracing and tracking apps that have come to light in the media.

The Aim of Contact Tracing

The aim of a contact tracing app is to be able to alert anyone who has been in contact with an infected person and warn them to isolate themselves. It is not a system that warns anyone of the presence of a person who is infected (as a recent article on Stuff claimed).

Friday, November 8, 2019

The Terrorism Suppression (Control Orders) Bill

The Terrorism Suppression (Control Orders) Bill will turn on its head the idea of ‘innocent until proven guilty’. The ramming of the Bill through parliament is yet another dog whistle to the mantra of terrorism. This time the terror is the fear of people coming from overseas who may have been involved in terrorist-related activities overseas. If terrorism related activity is suspected but there is not enough evidence to charge someone, the person could instead be subject to ‘Control Orders’.

Decisions about Control Orders could be reached and made in secret and without criminal level of guilt.

Control Orders will be extremely intrusive. People could have their day-to-day life curtailed or even be detained without any charge. Orders can ‘include limits on movement, communications with others, disclosing or receiving information, use of technology, buying or selling property, and engaging in specific activities in respect of their work, and recreation. They can further include requirements to report to the police regularly, submit to electronic monitoring, and to allow police to monitor/search their house, workplace, equipment, internet usage etc.(1)’ Control Orders could also last up to six years. It is worth noting that Control Orders could be a lot more invasive than any bail or parole conditions that the ‘justice system’ currently have at their disposal.

The Orders will be punishment without even the pretense of a trial.

Sunday, June 9, 2019

A Security Services & government Timeline

"Where were our intelligence agents when Ernie Abbott was murdered and the Rainbow Warrior blown up?" a speaker asked during the 2015 Security Intel Review by Michael Cullen and Patsy Reddy

A common concern also voiced at the time was that 'the GCSB was an outpost of the NSA and that its activities were linking us to America's wars'. The timeline below shows the validity of the concern. From RadioNZ 'Timeline: Security services, government and Muslim community before the Christchurch mosque attacks', the timeline highlights the anti-Arabic anti-Muslim focus of the security intelligence in this country.

Hand in hand with the timeline though, should be a timeline of the constant fear mongering anti-Muslim rhetoric that the government and its agencies led and participated in. Remember Rebecca Kiterridge and the government on the 'Jihadi Brides' and the November 2013 killing of a NZer in Yemen as a result of a US drone strike? Remember that we supply data used in drone strikes?

NZ is so intertwined with the Five Eyes that we blindly accept the US’s lead in who should be the 'enemy'. We need to be fearful of the Five-Eyes.

From RadioNZ: Before the Christchurch mosque attacks

  • 2002 - New Zealand enacts Terrorism Suppression Act. As of 2019, no one has ever been charged under Act
  • 2009-2019 - Not one specific mention in this period of the threat from white supremacists or right-wing nationalism in SIS or GCSB public documents
  • 2010-2017 - Figures from this period show 92 far-right attacks compared with 38 by jihadists* in US
  • July 2011 - 77 people killed in Norway by white supremacist shooter
  • 2012 on - Series of reviews of NZ security agencies after scandals including the Kim Dotcom spying
  • 2013 - National-led government abandons intrusive internet surveillance
  • 2013 on - Flood of refugees into Europe begins
  • 2014 - Suite of changes to national security set up including three new entities - a Strategic Risk and Resilience Panel, Security and Intelligence Board and Hazard Risk Board
  • 2015-2018 - Series of budget boosts for SIS and GCSB, including (in 2016) of $178m over 4 years
  • 2015 - Corrections Department sets up Countering Violent Extremism working group as part of government's counter-terrorism strategy
  • June 2015 - Nine killed by white supremacist at African-American church in South Carolina, United States **
  • December 2015 - New Zealand Muslims hold first community meetings to discuss counter-terrorism
  • June 2016 - Two men sentenced in Auckland over Islamic State material
  • October 2016 - Islamic Women's Council raises fears of far-right with SIS
  • 2017-18 - Security agencies set up new National Risk Unit and new National Security Workforce team, plus get a new specialist coordinator for counter-terrorism
  • 2017 - Research finds NZ Muslims believe government surveillance is excessive
  • 2017 to early 2018 - Muslim community in numerous meetings with government seeking but failing to get national wellbeing strategy
  • January 2017 - Six killed at mosque in Quebec, Canada
  • September 2017 - New Zealand's new Intelligence and Security Act 2017 comes into force
  • June 2018 - SIS begins to increase its efforts to assess far-right threat
  • November 2018 - Eleven killed by far right shooter in Pittsburgh, US
  • March 2019 - SIS and GCSB confirm they had no intelligence about the Christchurch terror accused
* Global Terrorism Database by the Washington Post
** This list of far-right attacks is far from exhaustive

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Peter Hughes Inquiry on Public Service Spying

‘This is not the way we do things in NZ’ State Services Commissioner Peter Hughes said as he described connections between government agencies and private agencies at the public release of the ‘Inquiry into the Use of External Security Consultants by Government Agencies’. Hughes sounded truly aggrieved. But the problem is that this is the NZ that many people know.

NZ has a long history of both state and private surveillance. For years a wide variety of groups and people have been spied upon, if not by state agencies themselves then by private investigators contracted by the public service. People surveilled include political and environmental activists, Māori and migrant communities, sexual abuse survivors and earthquake survivors - the list is long.

And one of the most infamous private investigation companies is Thompson and Clark (TCIL). TCIL’s main business appears to be working for a range of both state and private agencies. TCIL, started in 2003 by two former police officers: Gavin Clark and Nicholas Thompson, has been consistently employed by a range of both government and private agencies. (Thompson resigned from his directorship on 6 July 2018.)

Thursday, June 22, 2017

GCSB Director wanted to be useful - offered spies to Groser

"Mindful of the importance of being useful", GCSB Director Ian Fletcher offered the GCSB's services to Tim Groser.
When information about the GCSB spying on Tim Groser´s competitors for the job of Director of the WTO became public in 2015, the general assumption was that this was a case of the government leaning on a supposedly politically neutral agency to advance its agenda. 
Instead, what the IGIS´s report portraits is an agency taking it onto itself to do some extra-curricular spying in order to be in the good books with the government. 

The report by Inspector General Cheryl Gwyn is similar to Ian Fletcher´s memory - very specific in some details, but extremely vague in others. It states that it was Ian Fletcher´s idea to approach Tim Groser and offer him some extra spying to help him get the top job at the WTO. The report explains this by Fletcher being "mindful of the importance of being useful", i.e. he wanted to lick Groser´s boots, possibly because there was some public concern about his appointment (he had been appointed by personal recommendation from the PM, somewhat bypassing the usual selection process). 

Monday, June 5, 2017

Protest Tillerson's Visit - Unwelcome the US Secretary of State

Action alert: On Tuesday, the US Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson is landing in Wellington to meet with the NZ Government. 350 Aotearoa have organised an for him at 12:30 pm at Parliament. 

350 Aotearoa are asking people to help 'provide the opposite of the warm welcome Wellington normally gives: we need to unwelcome Tillerson from our Parliament, and protect our Government from climate denial and warmongering.'

If we do want to protect this country from warmongering, one thing to do would be to withdraw from the Five Eyes.

As a member of the Five Eyes we are involved in an international intelligence and surveillance network built to meet the needs of US national security. Our membership of the ‘club’ ensures our continual role in war and expansion of the military and surveillance industries. It means we are active in global mass surveillance and social manipulation.

Our membership in the Five Eyes means we are following Donald Trump.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Intelligence and Security Bill

The week beginning 13 March the Government aims to progress the New Zealand Intelligence and Security Bill.

Parliament says the “bill seeks to replace the four Acts that currently apply to GCSB, NZSIS and their oversight bodies, the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security, and the Intelligence and Security Committee. The Act will be a single, comprehensive piece of legislation to cover these agencies and seeks to improve their transparency.”

The bill, in fact though, is a complete rewrite of the four Acts and creates a one-stop surveillance shop with one law to rule all. It strengthens and entrenches state surveillance powers by removing any real meaningful distinction between the SIS and GCSB. The distinction between internal and external intelligence is totally blurred.

It is worthwhile to remember that over the years many people have protested the expansion of surveillance, including both the SIS and GCSB powers. Between 2009 & 2012 thousands of people protested against the Search and Surveillance Bill. In 2013, John Campbell, on 'Campbell Live’, conducted a poll on the then expansion of GCSB powers - 89% said no to increasing the GCSB powers.

The majority of people do not want the expansion of state surveillance powers but are snowed under by the constant law changes and reviews, and the powerful DPMC PR machine. A PR machine that constantly raises the spectre of terrorism and cyber-threat, but they are only spectres - consider the 'Jihadi Brides'.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Waihopai - A Public Shame

More than 70 people gathered outside Waihopai Spy Base in Blenheim on 28 January.

The base has been in operation since the end of the 1980s and from Waihopai NZ hoovers up data to give to the NSA. The NSA have said, the GCSB "continues to be especially helpful in its ability to provide NSA ready access to areas and countries ... difficult for the US to access".

From Waihopai NZ spies on China, Japanese/North Korean/Vietnamese/South American diplomatic communications, South Pacific island nations, Pakistan, India, Iran and Antarctica and this data is given to the NSA.

Waihopai is the most public emblem of the Five Eyes in this country. It became even more visible after one of the domes was slashed in 2008 exposing the satellite beneath. Later Edward Snowden managed to expose more of the doings of the Five Eyes, Waihopai is not a dirty secret anymore - it is a public shame.

We cannot deny that Waihopai and the operations of the GCSB mean we are part of a global mass surveillance, data collection and social manipulation alliance. An alliance established by the UKUSA Agreement at the end of WW2.

The protest outside the base on Saturday 28 January may have been brief but it was followed by a day of workshops in Blenheim where the history of the spybase, the role of the GCSB and campaigning against the base were spoken about.

Waihopai spy base must be closed down and we must dismantle the Five Eyes.

Further Info:
NZ Herald articles on role of GCSB & Waihopai
Snowden revelations / The price of the Five Eyes club: Mass spying on friendly nations

#snowdenNZ / How foreign spies access GCSB's South Pacific intelligence

Snowden revelations: NZ's spy reach stretches across globe

Revealed: The names NZ targeted using NSA's XKeyscore system

Nicky Hager
Anti-Bases Campaign -

The 5th Eye -

iSpy - The Five Eyes Alliance -