Wednesday 15 May 2013

Staying outside the Asylum

Dairy's great. But long term, New Zealand's ticket, I've reckoned, is being islands of sanity as the rest of the world entrenches the Asylum. The physical limits on dairy increase can't be that far off: we eventually run out of water for irrigation or hit a wall where we need a step-change in effluent dispersal technology before increased dairy density is tolerated.

We found New Zealand really attractive because it didn't seem to be doing all of the dumb things that the US and Canada were doing. Airport security was reasonable; flying is actually enjoyable. If you want to be a hairdresser, you hang out your shingle rather than have to submit to nutty occupational licensing regimes. The police remain, by default, unarmed; Armed Offenders Squad call-outs are rare enough that they'll make national news. Asset forfeiture has only recently been introduced; hopefully, we avoid its worst effects. Tariffs are low and on their way to zero. The GST makes sense. Though the government was tempted to implement software patents, the techies made a good case and the government changed course.

New Zealand keeps ranking at or near the top of the various indices of economic and social freedoms. We could do well by encouraging greater immigration of American techies fed up with that the American government seems to be archiving and storing just about everything for later searches. Just show them Novopay as example of how we couldn't, even if we wanted to.

Alas, we're not immune to the shenanigans going on elsewhere. Our NSA, the GCSB, is getting a legislative redraft. Thomas Beagle of TechLiberty summarises; NoRightTurn has a few additional comments. I'm not a lawyer - maybe things aren't as bad as they seem. David Farrar is considerably less concerned.

Where the GCSB acts under judicial warrant, I can't see that there's much difference between a wiretap being done by GCSB and one being done by the SIS; on that, I'm with David. But Thomas warns that the GCSB's powers will go a little beyond that. On his read of the legislation, we'll have to have back doors built into everything.

I don't understand why there's any particular rush to change the GCSB legislation other than that they beclowned themselves in the Kim DotCom prosecution. Wouldn't it have been rather better to have spent a bit of time with the tech community after the Kitteridge Report came out and sorted things out while drafting the legislation? The government's initial hamfistedness on software patents, and subsequent revision after consultation, might have suggested that some ex ante consultation was the better approach.

When the US seems to be doing everything it can to convince its tech guys that the government really does want to be spying on everybody, and that the IRS wants to know everything you talk about at political meetings if you have small-government leanings, the last thing we need are headlines suggesting we're heading down similar paths if the legislation doesn't actually do that. And if it does, it does need changing.

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