Hansard and Journals
Unsolicited Electronic Messages Bill — Second Reading
Unsolicited Electronic Messages Bill
Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE (Minister for Information Technology) : I move, That the Unsolicited Electronic Messages Bill be now read a second time. In speaking to the second reading of the bill, I first extend my thanks to the Commerce Committee for its excellent work on the bill. The committee gave full consideration to all of the public submissions received, and the bill, as reported back, incorporates a number of changes that reflect those submissions.
Unsolicited electronic messages, more commonly known as spam, were estimated to comprise approximately 80 percent of all email traffic worldwide when this bill was first mooted. Since then the flood of spam has only got worse. I have seen estimates by Internet service providers that spam now makes up around 90 percent of all emails. This problem is serious, it is urgent, and this Government is taking action on it. Spam clogs up networks, reduces productivity, and is often used for scams and malicious cyber-attacks. Spam is always a nuisance, and is often much worse than that.
The Unsolicited Electronic Messages Bill is an important part of the Government’s strategy to curb spam in New Zealand. It aims to prevent New Zealand from becoming a haven for spammers, to promote good e-marketing practice, and to provide a basis for international cooperation on combating spam. It contains prohibitions and requirements relating to the sending of commercial electronic messages. It also establishes a civil enforcement regime, including high maximum financial penalties for breaches.
I now turn to consider some of the key provisions of the bill; firstly, the commencement and preliminary provisions. The Government supports the following changes recommended by the Commerce Committee: an extension from 4 months to 6 months for the transition period between the enactment date and the commencement date, so that organisations can have enough time to achieve compliance; an amendment to the purpose clause to better reflect the broad social and economic objectives of the bill; and an amendment to the definition of a commercial message so that an electronic message need not have commercial promotion or marketing as its primary purpose in order to be defined as spam, and so that messages containing hyperlinks to commercial promotional messages can also be deemed as spam.
In respect of restrictions on electronic messages, submissions were supportive of the provision that a recipient of a commercial electronic message must consent to receive the message. This is known as an opt-in system, and it is contained within the majority of such similar legislation worldwide. However, submissions expressed some concern about there being possible confusion between promotional messages and commercial messages. Promotional electronic messages are non-commercial messages from an organisation promoting its aims, such as religious or political messages. I note that this House has been treated in recent weeks to a considerable volume of such messages in a recent book by Mr Nicky Hager. The bill as introduced includes a requirement that persons do not send promotional electronic messages to any person who has “opted out” of receiving such messages from the sender—notwithstanding the fact that some members of this House occasionally forget whether they have opted out.
The Commerce Committee recommends the removal of promotional messages from the bill, and the Government supports this change in order to achieve clearer legislation focused on combating the main problem of commercial spam. The bill requires senders of commercial electronic messages to include accurate sender information and an unsubscribe facility, so that the recipient can unsubscribe from future commercial electronic messages from that sender. The select committee has recommended that the requirements of the unsubscribe facility be changed so that recipients can unsubscribe by using the method of sending. The Government supports these changes.
In respect of address-harvesting software, the bill as introduced included prohibitions on the supply and acquisition of address-harvesting software and harvested-address lists, with the intention to use lists for spamming purposes. The select committee has recommended the removal of clauses regarding the supply and acquisition requirements. This is to focus the bill on the use of address-harvesting software and harvested-address lists for spamming purposes, as this is where the harm has occurred.
Part 3, “Enforcement provisions”, proposes a civil enforcement regime. It provides for financial penalties up to a maximum of $500,000 for organisations and $200,000 for individuals. High maximum penalties reflect the potentially high financial gains to be made from spamming, and the fact that spamming is a business with a very low-cost business model, and one that potentially offers the spammer high financial returns. In order to address the problem of spam, it is important to ensure that that business does not pay.
The bill as introduced required that the enforcement agency could consider only complaints regarding spam from service providers but could not consider complaints from any other person. It could investigate possible breaches on its own initiative. The reason for that requirement was to make clear that service providers would be the first point of contact for their customers who may have had concerns about spam. The committee recommended removing that requirement. It was concerned that the requirement would place unreasonable burdens on service providers. The committee expected—and we agree—that most users would first contact their service providers if they wished to complain about spam, but it was inappropriate to require that as a legal obligation. The Government supports that change.
The Internet Society of New Zealand sought in its submission to have the enforcement agency, under the bill, take an expanded role in monitoring spam and receiving and investigating spam complaints. The select committee has recommended that the role of the enforcement agency be expanded by amendments being made to the provisions setting out the agency’s functions and powers. These amendments include a requirement that the enforcement agency monitor levels of spam that contain sexual material. The Government supports these changes.
The Legislation Advisory Committee has expressed the view that the proposed enforcement regime for the Unsolicited Electronic Messages Bill should be criminal rather than civil. The committee’s reasons were that the high maximum financial penalties for breaches indicated an intention to punish offenders, thus the protections of the criminal law should apply. The Government has consulted a number of submitters and considers that the civil enforcement regime should be retained. The purpose of anti-spam legislation is not the punishment of offenders but to curb spam. Fraudulent actions and cyber-attacks using spam are already covered by existing criminal legislation.
The Unsolicited Electronic Messages Bill is important legislation that reflects the significant role that information and communications technologies play in our lives both now and in the future. It provides a regulatory framework for commercial electronic messages in order to prevent New Zealand from becoming a safe haven for spammers, promotes good e-marketing practice, and provides a basis for international cooperation on combating spam. If New Zealand is to realise fully the benefits of information and communications technologies, then users of those technologies must have trust and confidence in them. The Unsolicited Electronic Messages Bill supports this objective. As such, I commend it to the House.
CHRIS AUCHINVOLE (National) : The security and confidentiality of one’s own mail, and the right to control it, be it electronic or otherwise, is fundamental to a free society. I rise to support the Unsolicited Electronic Messages Bill in its second reading. This bill will, I suggest, be well received by the general public, once it is ushered into law, as it makes a clear statement on the unacceptability of spam in the email systems that are used by an ever-increasing percentage of the population. Interestingly enough, as the Minister has advised, it transpires that 90 percent of all emails sent or received fall into the category of spam—that is, stuff that no one ever wants or has asked for, and that no one would have wanted if asked. I guess we all know from personal experience, or from the experience of members of our family, that feeling of opening up the screen and the first thing we see being a great pile of unsolicited, often rubbish, mail—much of which is offensive. The main difficulty most people have is that they have to trundle through all the rubbish to sort out the emails that they do want, deleting the rubbish as they go. It is a bit like rummaging through a dustbin. There is a very real perception that spam—unwanted electronic messages—could destroy email as a system of responsible communication, if it were allowed to continue unabated or go unchecked.
Very little spam is generated in New Zealand at present, it would seem. On the international scale only an infinitesimal amount is estimated to originate from here. However, in considering this bill at the Commerce Committee, and later in the National caucus, it was recognised that we have to put this bill forward as an important part in the international jigsaw of combined international activities. New Zealand is part of the international action against perpetrators of spam, and stands shoulder to shoulder with other sovereign States doing the same thing. We see that it is important that we do so in order to build fences beyond which spammers cannot reach. We also want to make it plain that we are not a soft target for spammers to use. This bill fulfils part of the strategy against spam, which also includes improved education, technical solutions, and international law enforcement.
Getting rid of the stuff is not a simple matter, and I have been very impressed with the quality of the submissions that the select committee received, and the detailed discussions during the committee process. To the recipients of spam, of course, the requirement is plain. In a lot of discussion, it has simply been said: “Get rid of it.” The important aspect of the legislation is to ensure that the laws we are bringing into being avoid having unforeseen outcomes that negate the good that is being done.
The officials worked diligently, I considered, in advising the committee as we made our considerations on this bill. The submitters were not without credence in the field of electronic messaging. TradeMe sent along its commercial and regulatory manager and its Government relations manager. It sends out 1.8 million site-generated emails each week, and is by far the largest Internet company in New Zealand. TradeMe, as a company, welcomes and supports this bill, and offered useful recommendations in its submission. The New Zealand Bankers’ Association provided a detailed submission on the issue and sought a slightly longer period to arrange for customers to have a transference of systems, which the Minister mentioned in his opening speech on the bill. The National Council of Women, the New Zealand Law Society, the New Zealand Marketing Association, the Privacy Commissioner, Microsoft, the New Zealand Press Association, Telecom, Telstra, Vodafone, and a whole host of others all made submissions supporting this bill. It is significant that there was such a united voice on the issue.
I think there are grounds to conclude that the same response would be received over the improper collection of other people’s emails by parties that the emails were not intended for. The control of one’s own correspondence is a subject that is not without current significance. I am not a betting man by nature but I am prepared to put a bob or two on the safe bet that most people in New Zealand find mail theft a repugnant practice, quite apart from the legal aspect of it. I have been impressed with the indignation of those with whom I have discussed email spam. I am equally impressed with the indignation of those who have spoken to me about people accessing other people’s emails. Those same persons are not inclined to be persuaded that such theft could be “justified” on the basis of political intrigue. They just find it disgusting to think that emails can be filched and used beyond the control of their author. Perhaps this legislation about unwanted electronic mail may impact, eventually, on those who want other people’s mail, which they have no entitlement to.
The bill restricts the sending of unsolicited commercial emails, which are punishable by large fines. Non-commercial emails can continue to be sent but must contain opt-out provisions. The details of what constitutes an electronic message are quite precise in the bill, and are detailed in Part 1. Those can be covered in the Committee stage but for the sake of clarity and as a courtesy to those members of the public who are listening in to this second reading, I will quickly read the meaning of “electronic message” and “commercial electronic message”. Clause 5, “Meaning of electronic message”, states: “(1) For the purposes of this Act, an electronic message is a message sent—(a) using a telecommunications service; and (b) to an electronic address. (2) However, the messages listed in clause 1 of the Schedule are not electronic messages. (3) For the purposes of subsection (1), it is immaterial whether—(a) the electronic address exists; or (b) the message reaches its intended destination.” Clause 6, “Meaning of commercial electronic message” states, on the other hand, that a commercial electronic message “(a) means an electronic message that—(i) markets or promotes—(A) goods; or (B) services; or (C) land; or (D) an interest in land; or (E) a business or investment opportunity; or (ii) assists or enables a person to obtain dishonestly a financial advantage or gain from another person;”. The details go on, and, as I say, will probably be covered in the Committee stage.
There was an initial amount of debate over whether one should be able to opt in or opt out of receiving mail. This was resolved in a straightforward manner by simply prohibiting unsolicited commercial emails. There was some initial confusion about the difference between commercial—
Darren Hughes: Why are you reading it out? Why don’t you speak from the heart?
CHRIS AUCHINVOLE: I certainly do speak from the heart. Has he got one?
I turn to promotional messages. The National members of the select committee can take some measure of credit for resolving the promotional aspect. In other words, we should be protected from spam ever originating in New Zealand and, should that occur, we have redress facilities available to us in the law. With regard to the law and its enforcement it should be noted that the search warrants required will be available to enforcement officers only when they apply for them on a case by case basis. The enforcement authority will not have a blanket warrant.
The legal proceedings involved in this bill are to be in a civil liability regime. When the bill was initially put forward a criminal liability regime was proposed. This was part of the original legislation that was looked at in Australia. It has been decided, though, to use the civil liability regime here, with a criminal regime able to be considered at a future date if necessary.
It is beyond doubt that this bill has been considerably improved by the select committee. A number of initiatives towards improvement were generated by the National and the United Future members of the committee and the whole committee, with Katherine Rich as chair, went very much in harmony to reach a sensible, practical, and workable outcome. The division of emails into commercial and promotional has been dropped so as to avoid spammers using the excuse of sending promotional emails. Promotional emails may continue to be sent but must be non-commercial and contain opt-out provisions.
There were submissions on the provision in the bill for members of the public experiencing spam to complain to their Internet service provider in the first instance. That provision has been dropped. It would have placed an unrealistic burden on the Internet service providers, which are already battling spam with technical solutions. One of the most impressive aspects of the submissions was the Internet service providers’ efforts, which they are currently engaged in, to avoid and eliminate spam. It has been most worthwhile putting this bill, after it was brought to the select committee, into its present form. Thank you, Madam Speaker.
Hon PAUL SWAIN (Labour—Rimutaka) : The problem with trying to follow that speech by Chris Auchinvole is that by the time we get to some of the brilliant contributions from the Government side of the House, virtually everybody is turned off. That is a shame because we wanted to introduce some new material into the debate—not the material that was dredged up from the research unit—and we noted on a couple of occasions that the pages appeared to have been read at least twice, and that did not help the nature of the argument.
Chris Auchinvole: Sometimes we have to emphasise the points for you guys. You wouldn’t get it the first time.
Hon PAUL SWAIN: No, we got it the first time. The member did not need to repeat it over and over again.
However, what members have rightly said is that the Unsolicited Electronic Messages Bill is part of the Government’s strategy to try to curb unsolicited emails—spam, in its more colloquial sense. Everybody hates spam. Everybody hates those unsolicited emails. We are told by the Minister that 80 percent of email traffic now is spam. Everybody hates it. It is like somebody blowing cigar smoke in someone else’s face. It is exactly like that. Everybody hates having cigar smoke blown in his or her face and everybody hates receiving unsolicited mail. There are now rules around second-hand smoke, as there should be. We have introduced tough measures on, for example, smoking inside and all those kinds of things because we know that second-hand smoke causes damage, from lung issues right through to concussion and possible sore noses.
The important thing about this legislation is that just as we have rules about second-hand smoke, so we should also have rules against spam email. As has already been described, the legislation prevents New Zealand from becoming a haven for spammers, promotes good e-marketing practices, and provides a basis for international cooperation on combating spam.
One of the issues that we need to look at is whether spam email is commercial or promotional. Someone is obviously going to have to make that judgment. For example, one could receive an email in one’s in-box stating: “To assist in the process, we represent a group of Christian businessmen concerned as to the course and direction of the current Government. Accordingly, we have put together an election programme with a budget of $1.2 million”—
Darren Hughes: How much?
Hon PAUL SWAIN: —it was $1.2 million—“with the goal of getting party votes for National as this is the only way that change will come about.” That was the kind of email from the Exclusive Brethren that went into the in-box of David Henry from the Chief Electoral Office. Would that email be a commercial spam or a promotional spam? Is it promoting the Exclusive Brethren or is it a commercial arrangement between the Exclusive Brethren—
Darren Hughes: Sounds like a purchase bid to me.
Hon PAUL SWAIN: Possibly it was a purchase bid; possibly it was almost a tender bid. Yes, it was almost a tender from the Exclusive Brethren to the Chief Electoral Office. If it had been a commercial spam email, Mr Henry would have had the opportunity of opting in, which means that he probably would not have received it unless he clicked on “Yes, I want to receive this.” If the spam was promoting the Exclusive Brethren, there would have to be an unsubscribe facility, which means someone could open it but could send a message asking not to be sent any more of that garbage—that junk mail. The Exclusive Brethren were donkey deep in this kind of thing, and if this legislation had come in a bit sooner, then possibly National might not be in the position it is in today.
Darren Hughes: Don Brash could still be leader!
Hon PAUL SWAIN: Don Brash could still be the leader.
The ASSISTANT SPEAKER (Ann Hartley): This is hardly—
Hon PAUL SWAIN: No, no, Madam Assistant Speaker, this is absolutely on email spam, which is a subject introduced by the previous speaker.
The kinds of emails that people get in their in-boxes every time they open them, the sorts of things that annoy people, the sorts of things that the previous National speaker raised, are emails such as this, from people who state that they believe “… time is of the essence. Our campaign … is direct and simple—It creates and demonstrates MISTRUST in the current Government. It builds TRUST in a DON BRASH led Government.” An email such as that has gone into an in-box for Don Brash and has also been copied to John Key. When someone received that piece of electronic information, would it have been a commercial electronic email or a promotional electronic email?
These are the things that the select committee had to decide on. In the end it decided—I think absolutely quite rightly—to distinguish between the two of them. I think in this case it could well be argued that this was a commercial email and therefore there would be an opt-in provision. If the Exclusive Brethren had sent the email under this legislation and either did not have an opt-in part of the email or did not have an unsubscribe facility, it would be in breach of this particular legislation and it would be up for a fine of potentially around $50,000 in the case of promotional activity and—
Darren Hughes: Plus GST!
Hon PAUL SWAIN: Yes, there would be then a question of whether it was inclusive or exclusive of GST. That is something the National Party would take a long, long time to determine, but whatever it was, there would be some considerable fine.
The email was sent to Don Brash and John Key. John Key then said he did not believe he ever received that email.
Simon Power: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. Whilst we know the member is heading for retirement and has taken the opportunity to give a semi-valedictory speech, the fact remains that the bill relates to quite a technical issue relating to spam and its invasion of the computer systems and Internet arrangements in this country. The member should be drawn back to the provisions of this bill.
Hon PAUL SWAIN: Speaking to the point of order, Madam Speaker, I have had a lot to do with this bill. I have studied it. I was one of the Ministers who promoted it. The issues of what went into people’s in-boxes and what did not, and what was the appropriate action to be taken by someone receiving such email, whether it is a commercial or a promotional email, is absolutely in line with this bill. Using examples as a way of trying to elucidate what we are talking about here for the people at home is a perfectly legitimate way of debating this.
The ASSISTANT SPEAKER (Ann Hartley): The member is addressing the issues within the bill. Please continue.
Hon PAUL SWAIN: What we then get is an email that has been sent to Don Brash. We have already tried to work out whether it would be classed as a promotional or a commercial email. John Key then said he did not believe he received the email and has no record of receiving it. He said: “In my opinion, that may indicate it was sent to the wrong address.” I think what we need to do, of course, under the current legislation and without this piece of legislation in place, is to decide whether that is believable. That is probably something that people—
Chris Auchinvole: Talk about believable!
Hon PAUL SWAIN: Well, people will need to consider it and think about it. In relation to an important email like that—“Did I not get it; did I get it?”—it was the old “Well, I can’t quite recall.” I think that was the way it was described.
Darren Hughes: “I remember not opening it.”
Hon PAUL SWAIN: Yes—“I do remember not opening that email.” That is a very good line and it is kind of “Brashy” in its logic.
But then, of course, there are other kinds of emails, and I think that these would fall, probably, within the ambit of what is called a promotional email. Here is a promotional email that went, for example—
Darren Hughes: To whom?
Hon PAUL SWAIN: —from Bill English to Don Brash. This is a promotional email that under this legislation would have to have a little “unsubscribe” box in it. So when the email is opened a message box comes up labelled “unsubscribe”, which if clicked means there would be no more messages. That is the message box’s objective, and quite rightly it is different, possibly, from the other. The promotional email from Bill English that I am quoting from states: “There are a few lessons here,”. It states that Brash’s strategy team had been “pushing Judith [Collins] as a star”, but she was a second-year MP “pushed beyond her capacity” into a hard portfolio, and “with an unfortunately high estimation of her own competence”. It said that Collins, “with apparent backing from the top”, had “spent too much time cultivating the media herself, and believing the resulting publicity.”—a very dangerous thing to do in this job—“She will find it hard to recover her credibility in caucus where she has been a tough critic of her colleagues behind the scenes and they know it.”
What did Bill English, in another email, say to his leader? He said that he believed John Carter had been “promoted beyond his capacity”.
Darren Hughes: Is he still here?
Hon PAUL SWAIN: I think he is still here; he is over there somewhere. And what do members think about this email about Murray McCully? “Unfortunately the middle of the road caucus people are coming to the conclusion their fate is largely in the hands of McCully, who is happy to burn off anybody who gets in the way, Long who just pushes stars and Brownlee who looks after his own interests not theirs. You cannot afford to be seen to allow these guys to burn off the talent we have and reward self promoters who turn out to be incompetent.”
This is the new, united National Party, and I am saying that if the National Party had actually assisted in helping promote this legislation a bit sooner, then it might not be in the position it is in today. It might have its old leader—I think the fourth or fifth leader since our Prime Minister has been facing that party—and as a result it might not be in this position today. The important thing about this legislation, I tell members, is that first of all they must be very careful about who sends them what in their emails, and they should not encourage people who are promoting themselves. Worse, they should not promote people, or open emails from people, who are trying to do a deal with them behind the scenes, sneakily—notwithstanding the fact they are supposed to be a Christian organisation—and trying to get away with it.
This is important legislation and I support it.
RODNEY HIDE (Leader—ACT) : I rise on behalf of the ACT party to oppose this bill. We believe that when we pass law in this Parliament it should be able to work. I listened most carefully to Mr Auchinvole’s speech, which I thought was a very, very good speech, but I listened in vain—to a man who had sat on the select committee—to hear how this bill would stop spam. I heard that the bill—and I think this is the purpose of the bill—“will send a signal”, I think was the phrase used, that spam is unacceptable. Well, we can signal all we like but at the end of the day signalling through Parliament that we do not like spam, achieves nothing.
Chris Auchinvole: In itself, no.
RODNEY HIDE: Well, we have now had an acceptance from the key proponent of the bill from the National side that this bill “in itself” does nothing. So we are sitting here in Parliament debating a bill and putting a bill on our statute book that does nothing “in itself”. If we want to have respect for the law, and if we want our law to mean something, it actually has to serve a purpose and achieve a result. But this legislation does nothing. It is true that everyone hates spam, it is true that everyone is bothered by spam, but nothing sticks in the public’s craw more than having MPs stand up and, in a high and mighty way, say that they oppose spam too, and say: “Look at us; we are passing a law against it.” But it is a law that will not stop one piece of spam in New Zealand, whatsoever. Members should ask themselves where this spam comes from. It does not come from Mrs Brown in Te Kūiti; it comes in from overseas. This bill will do nothing to stop spam.
I listened very carefully to the Hon Paul Swain, who has clearly given this legislation some thought—and typically, vacuously, come up with nothing. But Mr Paul Swain drew attention to a series of emails in his speech, and I suggest to the Government that when Mr Swain is thinking about those emails, it is a problem the Government could do something about. But is the Government interested? What we have seen with the emails and correspondence that appear in Mr Nicky Hager’s book is a degree of political espionage that we have never seen in New Zealand before. I do not think we have seen it in any Western country before. It is not possible for those emails to have been leaked, and it is not possible for those emails to have been a series of leaks. When I read the book it is clear to me that there has been covert surveillance of members of Parliament of this House, offices broken into, and computers hacked into from outside. The Leader of the Opposition’s computer has been hacked or broken into. Staff members in this Parliament have had their computers hacked, and so have other MPs. The computers of private citizens have been accessed.
I am appalled that a former Minister of this Government has stood up and made trite comments about those emails, trying to score some political points, yet has not dealt with the serious issue here, which is, who is behind this espionage? Who is behind this criminal activity? Who is behind putting MPs of this House under surveillance? What terrible forces that would stoop so low are operating in our democracy? I should put on record that I do not believe for a second that the Labour Party is behind it. I do not believe for a second that any political party in this House is behind it. But as MPs, as representatives of our democracy, and as believers in the rule of law, we should be united in saying that this sort of activity and espionage is totally unacceptable in any country, in any democracy.
I find it somehow richly ironic that Nicky Hager in his book makes his conspiracy theory about the few trying to dictate to the many—and trying to do so secretly—when he himself is party to, or is perhaps a pawn of, the few who have been behind this espionage, in order to effect an outcome in an election. Nicky Hager has admitted to taking emails criminally obtained through espionage and selectively leaking them to the media in order to effect an outcome in an election. That material has been obtained in that criminal way, that covert and systematic way, not once or twice, not just for days or even weeks or months, but for years.
Nicky Hager does not reveal his sources. He does not tell us who these shadowy figures are. He does not tell us who is behind the book and the material he has. He does not tell us—the people of New Zealand and the people in this House—what their motives were. Oh no! It is enough that Nicky Hager has this material.
I say to the Hon Paul Swain and to the members of the Government that something very serious has gone on here. I heard my colleagues from the National Party mention Watergate. Well, actually, with Watergate there was only one break-in. Several break-ins—serial break-ins and surveillance—were involved in what we have here. We all as MPs have an interest in this, because which others have had their computers hacked? Do we seriously believe that what has gone on here has been done just on the National Party? Why would it be just the National Party? I am sure that every one of us is as vulnerable as the previous National leader found he was in respect of his system and as National MPs, their staff, and supporters found they were with their systems. What happened to them can happen to each and every one of us. Who is behind it? What is it saying about our democracy?
I take grave exception to the Hon Paul Swain trying to score some cheap points, and I expect our Government to be pursuing whoever is behind this espionage. I tell members that the noose is tightening around the necks of the perpetrators of this. We are closing in on them and they will be revealed. I say that there is a big story to be told here, and I believe that every political party in this Parliament—indeed, every New Zealander—has to believe that the systems we operate in this Parliament are secure. If Don Brash’s computer can be penetrated, then the computers of Michael Cullen, the Prime Minister, and any other Minister can be penetrated. There is a very, very serious issue here.
GORDON COPELAND (United Future) : That speech was a very interesting one for me to follow on from, and I for one hope that Rodney Hide will follow up on what he said and lodge a complaint with the police. At the very least, as he pointed out, we in a free and open democracy should be looking at this. Thinking back, we remember that Watergate started off as one small burglary. But Watergate grew and grew until eventually it forced the resignation of the President of the United States. If, indeed, we have seen a pattern of similar covert behaviour in our nation, then it is something we should worry about. So I think that the points the member brought to the attention of the House need to be addressed by the Government and, indeed, by Parliament.
United Future welcomes this Unsolicited Electronic Messages Bill to tackle the urgent problem of unsolicited electronic messages, commonly known as spam. The creation of the Internet, which, I understand, now has about 1 billion participants, has given the people of the Earth unprecedented access to information and has been an irreplaceable element in the globalisation of commercial and political activity. Undoubtedly, therefore, the creation of the Internet and the ability to send messages instantly and electronically has greatly advanced the common good. As we also know, however, there is also a downside, and it is called spam. Microsoft, one of the organisations that gave evidence at the Commerce Committee on this bill, told us that 4 billion spam messages a day currently enter its network alone. I understand that in the short period of time between that organisation’s representatives appearing before the select committee and now, that number has grown from 4 billion to 10 billion. It has more than doubled, and at current rates we should see it doubling again. I am told that it is now possible to send up to 1 million spam messages for $10. So we have a massive problem on our hands. In many ways, therefore, spam is the curse of the Internet and I am delighted—for the benefit of Rodney Hide—that the New Zealand Government, in concert with many other Governments around the world, is now taking positive steps through this bill to reduce, control, and rein in gratuitous spam.
In my speech today I want particularly to focus on gratuitous spam containing sexually orientated material. This matter was drawn to the attention of the committee by Judge David Henry, who noted that spam messages containing links to pornography sites are not covered by the Films, Videos, and Publications Classification Act 1993 and that the commercial nature of the definition of spam may not, therefore, adequately protect children. I shared those concerns and fully back the recommendations of the committee to amend the bill so that the functions of the enforcement department are broadened to allow levels of gratuitous spam that contains sexually orientated material, whether or not it is commercial in nature, to be monitored and controlled.
Spam containing sexually explicit material is somewhat in a class of its own. The original spam may not be selling anything and therefore is not commercial, but it may contain soft porn images and links to provide a teaser that grooms the recipient to visit a pornographic website. At that point, the transaction certainly becomes commercial. I understand that pornography on the Internet is now worth tens of billions of dollars per annum and is growing at the rate of thousands of new porn sites every week. All of this represents a threat to New Zealand children and is, as I know, a deep concern to New Zealand parents. My children did not grow up in the Internet age, but I am simply amazed at how my grandchildren, from age 7 or 8, or younger, can surf the net with consummate ease and familiarity. Put that ease of access and skill together with the literally millions of porn sites, and the problem becomes all too evident.
Shortly after the Unsolicited Electronic Messages Bill was reported back to the House, I issued a press release drawing attention to the provisions I have just mentioned in relation to sexually orientated material. I was surprised at the information that has been sent to me as a result. Let me quote, for example, directly from a letter sent to me from a school principal in Auckland. He says this: “The concern is the use of Internet pornography by pre-adolescent though to adolescent boys and girls. The volume of pornography available on the Internet is enormous. It is available in a variety of forms—pictures, movies, clips, story texts. Access is virtually unlimited. Some sites charge and require a credit card, although many normally have free samples. Others may require you to click an enter box that declares you are of age to access adult material.” Members can imagine how well that works in the hands of people who are determined to get access. They simply lie about their age. “For thousands of others, there is no restriction at all. Teenagers are curious and are likely to look at pornography, given the opportunity. They may access it accidentally. Search engines, like Google, facilitate this. The concern is that the level of access is growing and that many parents have no idea of what is happening or how to limit it. Many are less computer savvy than their children and are unable to monitor their activities effectively.” The letter goes on to lament how little is being done in New Zealand to address this issue.
That is no longer the case in Australia. The Australian Government has announced a $116 million comprehensive package of measures to crack down on the scourge of Internet pornography. The central part of this package is a national filter scheme, costing some $93 million, that will be provided over a 3-year period to Australian families free of charge to be installed in their homes. I should say, too, that filter technology even now has been overtaken; earlier today I saw some breakthrough technology that actually has the capacity to block porn in its entirety. It is really almost Star Trek technology. It is now available and already 850,000 Malaysian families are hooked into that system, for example. It actually blocks and filters out something like 96 percent or more of all pornography on the Internet so it cannot be replicated on the screen of anyone who has that program installed. I forwarded this material on to the Minister for Information Technology, the Hon David Cunliffe, and I believe that the Government and Parliament need to address this matter with a degree of urgency. All of us are duty-bound to do what we can to protect the beauty and innocence of our children. The corruption of children must never be tolerated, as it can wreak great damage on boys and girls as they move into adulthood and, hopefully, into stable adult relationships.
The computer industry also needs to play its part. I was encouraged that after the executives of Microsoft New Zealand appeared before the select committee, they spontaneously called by my office to say that their interaction with the select committee in relation to spam was such that they now believe they have a real responsibility to rein in the unsatisfactory elements of this wonderful technology; not, essentially, for commercial gain—although I have no doubt that that may be a part of it—but for the common good of New Zealand and its citizens, including children. I applaud the attitude taken by Microsoft, and I would challenge other Internet companies and program design companies to follow suit. I believe that Internet service providers and others who take a close interest in the growth of the Internet could also actively take more steps to reduce the exposure of children to pornography. What I am suggesting here is a multifaceted approach, whereby we in Parliament could address this issue, along with Internet service providers and program designers in companies set up for that purpose.
In the 1980s it was said that New Zealand had become a sex-saturated society. If those sentiments were true then, then the Internet has introduced a veritable flood of objectionable material right into the living rooms of New Zealand families. Therefore, we should together resolve to change that situation for the better. This bill makes a small start and takes a positive step in that direction, because in future when people get unsolicited sexual material by way of spam on their computers, they will be able to contact the enforcement agency and bring that material to its attention. That agency, in turn, can clamp down on the people who are sending that spam and also, of course, feed into the international apparatus that we, in concert with other nations, are building around the globe, so that if the spam originates, for example, from Hungary, then the Hungarian Government will come down on the people who are sending it in Hungary or if it is being sent from the United States, then the US Government will come down on those people sending it in the United States.
This needs a worldwide strategy and worldwide action, because we have a worldwide problem. The future of our children is too precious for us to run the risk of failing to take whatever steps we can to bring this most unsatisfactory situation to an end. United Future will be supporting the bill both at its second reading and through its remaining stages.
BARBARA STEWART (NZ First) : On behalf of New Zealand First, I rise to support the Unsolicited Electronic Messages Bill. Unsolicited commercial spam is increasingly becoming a problem on every PC, and the bottom line is that we dislike it intensely. We do not care whether it is promotional or commercial; we do not want either. We just want it done away with on our PCs. We want to be able to unsubscribe so that we do not have to bother with this total waste of time.
It is quite interesting to note that spam appears to be more sophisticated and more difficult to detect, because even the software here in Parliament can manage to detect only a percentage of some of the spam emails that come through. Like most MPs, I received over 400 emails during the recent adjournment period, stored in the spam folder. But this was not all of the spam that was on my computer; some of it actually went through into my new emails and bypassed the spam filter.
Of course, spam is a total waste of time. What do we have coming through to us? We have deals on software that we do not need; medications that, of course, we would not want to buy off the Internet; online drugstores with various medications, and again we do not even want to know about them; nonsense words all put together; programming symbols; and even Asian words or some other writing. It all comes through into the spam filter. We also have stocks and bonds, which are something that one would never ever just buy on the Internet.
If we look back over the history of spam, the first instance of spam occurred way back in 1978, when Gary Thuerk, from the Digital Equipment Corporation, sent an email to every ARPANET address on the west coast of the USA—ARPANET was a very early version of today’s Internet—and that resulted in 600 emails being sent. His actions prompted many angry emails in reply, due to his inappropriate usage of the Internet. What do we have now? We have spam as a serious, worldwide problem that, basically, is threatening to cripple the Internet, due to the huge volume of unsolicited mail. The phenomenal number of emails generated each day is growing exponentially, with the most recent figures showing that in June 2006, worldwide, 55 billion spam emails were generated each day. This figure has roughly doubled since June 2005, when 30 billion spam emails were generated each day.
As previous speakers have said, spam is one of the curses of the Internet. I think it is worth reflecting that although we receive quite a few hundred emails each week, perhaps we should spare a thought for people like Bill Gates, who receives over 4 million junk emails each year—far more than we hope ever to have to cope with.
Although this bill is a good start, it is worth reflecting that only 10 percent of the spam affecting New Zealanders actually originates here in New Zealand. Minister Cunliffe stated that the bill will really be enforceable only in New Zealand. Because of this, to deal effectively with the spam we now have there needs to be serious international cooperation. New Zealand by itself can do absolutely nothing. Ninety percent of the spam in Kiwi email in-boxes comes from outside New Zealand, with the majority of it coming from the USA, China, South Korea, and Russia. This bill will not have a direct impact on those nations, unfortunately, but it does show our commitment to doing our bit to try to stem this international problem.
When I looked at the Commerce Committee’s report I noted that the select committee recommends amending clauses 23, 24, and 25 in order to remove the requirement that complaints from spam recipients were directed back to Internet service providers. This is a good move, as the original provisions may have placed an unreasonable burden and significant enforcement cost on Internet service providers. It is likely, however, that the Internet service providers will remain the first point of call for customers who want to complain about unsolicited electronic messages, but that is not a role we can force upon the Internet service providers. The select committee also recommends extending the transition period before the bill takes effect, from 4 months to 6 months. It is good to see that on this occasion the committee did take the advice of submitters and it recommended the extension, which will allow organisations to implement the required changes—which, of course, they have to do.
New Zealand First does support this bill. It is only a small start. We know that spam is providing a real challenge and that it will continue to do so. New Zealand First wants to see every possible assistance given to all Internet users and to all email users in order to prevent New Zealand becoming a safe haven for spammers, because that is something we definitely do not want to see. Thank you.
NANDOR TANCZOS (Green) : I am rising on behalf of the Green Party to speak to the Unsolicited Electronic Messages Bill, also known as the “Spam Bill”. It is something the Green Party has had discussions with the Minister about at various times, because it is an issue of growing significance.
Having said that, I do want to acknowledge the comments made by Rodney Hide about the bill and questioning how much it actually achieves. I think he is absolutely right that it is arrogant and counter-productive for this Parliament to pass legislation that has no effect other than to salve the conscience of parliamentarians or to send some sort of message to the public. I think he is quite right to oppose the bill if that is what he thinks we are doing. It is not unusual for this House to do that very thing. There are many pieces of legislation I can think of that have passed through this House with great support, and are really just about making politicians feel they are doing something positive and have no effect out in the real world. So, as I say, I think Mr Hide is right to oppose the bill if that is what he thinks we are doing.
I am not entirely convinced, though, that that is all we are doing, because I think there are some benefits to this legislation. It is predicated on the assumption that we all oppose spam—and, of course, we do. I think we are pretty familiar with our in-boxes filling up with enormous amounts of all kinds of stuff that we certainly do not want to see, so we are as aware of that here as anyone. I think we do all agree that we need to try to do something about it if we are able to.
I would not go quite so far as Mr Auchinvole who talked about the right to control our own mail regardless of the media. I am not sure that such a right has actually ever existed. If it did, then I certainly would be making sure I did not get speeding tickets and bills through my mail, but I do not have that ability. We are always going to receive unsolicited mail of some kind, so I think we have to have some perspective on how we look at it.
It is important to see whether there are things we can do about what is clearly a growing and significant problem that is getting out of control all around the world. The Greens are supporting this legislation as a brave attempt to try to grapple with the problem. Obviously, I think, we are limited in what we can do in this Parliament to address the problem, and this bill is probably about as much as we can do for the meantime.
Of course, the reality is that New Zealand is a minor contributor to spam internationally. We are not seeing enormous amounts coming out of this country and what we can do will be limited. But, having said that, I do not think that means we should not try to do anything to address the spam that does originate in this country. I take, as an analogy, the whole issue around climate change where we are told that New Zealand is a small contributor to climate change and greenhouse gas emissions and, therefore, maybe it is not worth our doing anything. But we know that if we are to get international solidarity, and if we are to work at a global level to reduce global problems, then we all have to play a part. These agreements work only if we are all willing to participate as far as we can to address the issue.
The other thing is that, like climate change, it is also a question of moral authority. It is hard for us to go to international forums and make the statement: “Well, they should be doing something.” about countries where perhaps their contribution to the spam problem is more significant, if we are unwilling to do anything at all in our own jurisdiction. So I think those are strong reasons why we have to see what we can do to address spam in this country.
The other issue is that we may become a haven for spam. The reality is that one does not need to relocate huge numbers of people or equipment to alter where the spam is originating from. New Zealand could easily become another haven for spam if we become out of step with the international consensus. If we do not move towards regulation of spam as other countries do so, then certainly we will see relocation to New Zealand, and that is something that we do not want to see. So, like Mr Copeland, I think we have to look at a regime where we work with an international consensus as much as possible and rely on each country to enforce responsible, realistic legislation within its own jurisdiction. I think this is what this legislation attempts to do.
Having said that, and having expressed support for the bill regardless of its limited ability to address the problem, there are a couple of issues I would like to address that raise some concern in my mind. The first issue is that I am a little confused as to the intention of removing the exemptions or the different regime that applies to promotional material as opposed to commercial. I understand the argument. I understand the concern of the Commerce Committee that the distinction could be abused by people who are simply trying to stretch the boundary between commercial and promotional messages. I can see the real potential for uncertainty and confusion. I understand the argument about why one would want to do something about that. I guess I am really asking—and I would be interested to hear a member of the select committee express a view, if the committee had a unified one—whether this was actually an intention to apply as restrictive a regime on an organisation such as Oxfam as on those who fill up our in-boxes promising greater sexual satisfaction—
Rodney Hide: It works!
NANDOR TANCZOS: I am sure Mr Hide would know because he is looking fit, tanned, and ready to go. But—
Rodney Hide: I am going to pass it on to Mr Doug Woolerton.
NANDOR TANCZOS: And Mr Woolerton looks like he is welcoming that! But members can continue that discussion outside the Chamber and we will continue to discuss the bill. But I think there is an argument to say that there are reasons why we might want to have a different regime applying to some of those promotional activities, and, in my mind at least, that is an unresolved issue. I would be interested to hear from the select committee members as to what the clear intention was.
The other issue was around clause 12, “Commercial electronic messages and promotional electronic messages must contain functional unsubscribe facility”. This clause sets out provisions around what the message must look like in order for that to work. The difficulty is that the advice we are always given is “Don’t unsubscribe to spam because that just encourages them.” That is the difficulty. If we are planning a regime that is very much dependent on this kind of unsubscribe facility, I think that will create enormous difficulty, confusion, and mixed messages. It means that members of the public will have to be very careful about the distinction between spam that does originate in this country and spam that does not, because even if that regime is realistic, and even if one could make it work, it clearly does not apply to anywhere else. I think that will cause enormous difficulties.
There is one other thing that I want to touch on, and that is in relation to the definition of an electronic address. An electronic address includes a telephone account, an email account, instant messaging, etc. Clause 5 states that “an electronic message is a message sent—(a) using a telecommunications service; and (b) to an electronic address.”, which clearly includes a telephone account. However, the excluded messages listed in clause 1 of the schedule, “Messages that are not electronic messages”, are voice calls made using standard telephone service or voice-over Internet protocol or facsimiles. I am just reminded of the election campaign, and Mr Hide could confirm this, where one of the strategies in Epsom was to use recorded telephone messages to ring people up and solicit—
Rodney Hide: It was not Epsom.
NANDOR TANCZOS: Oh, not Epsom—
Rodney Hide: Everywhere else but Epsom.
NANDOR TANCZOS: I thank the member. So the strategy of using recorded messages to solicit political support is not a far step to that happening for a commercial purpose. The definition of a facsimile, which is an electronic message of some kind, being excluded—
Rodney Hide: People love them!
NANDOR TANCZOS: That is not the feedback I got, I have to tell the member. I think there is a real anomaly here that it does not include telephone and facsimiles. It leaves an enormous loophole that we will see commercial companies exploit in the very near future if this bill passes.
HONE HARAWIRA (Māori Party—Te Tai Tokerau) : Kia ora, Madam Assistant Speaker. Kia ora tātou te Whare. This stuff can get a bit too serious and a bit too detailed. When I first heard about spam, my initial thought was of a Monty Python skit about canned meat. It was a skit set in a cafe, and some members will remember it. A group of Vikings were wearing horned helmets, and whenever somebody said “spam” they all stood up and started singing, chanting, dancing, and carrying on. Eric Idle and Graham Chapman in drag, playing his wife, entered the cafe and asked what was on the menu. The waitress said there was egg and spam; egg, bacon, and spam; egg, bacon, sausage, and spam; spam bacon, sausage, and spam; and spam sausage, spam bacon, spam tomato, and spam. Members will get the idea. Sometimes when I check my email it is like Monty Python all over again—whether the issue is section 59, trans-Tasman therapeutic goods, or the Auckland stadium, it all seems to be spam: spam bacon, spam tomato, and spam.
Although there is a sense of the sublime and the ridiculous in all of this, it is also worth noting that spam comes in emails, texts, and instant messages from all over the place, all over the world, at a rate of 350 million a month. That is big-time nuisance stuff. Sure, there are filters to counter spam, but they often delete good messages. The fear is that amongst a whole bag of rotten apples there are often a couple of good ones, but they get dumped along with the rubbish. I know this only too well because some of the excellent contributions the Māori Party has made in this House have been blocked by some email addresses because of the use of some language that could be termed to be rather passionate and colourful.
Rodney Hide: Direct.
HONE HARAWIRA: Direct! Of course, spam artists just bypass the filters by changing the addresses. The thing is that spam is just plain hōhā—crackers, slackers, Viagra vendors, and hackers who attack websites and threaten computer security. It reduces productivity, it creates stress, it wastes networking computing resources, and it often perpetrates financial schemes like those emails from somebody’s long-lost Uncle Albert in Nigeria, who wants someone to take his millions before a brutal new regime takes over and who says that person can also have a couple of million dollars, as long he or she enters his or her bank account details.
Of course, the whole issue of security and computer theft has served us spectacularly through the blaze of publicity surrounding Nicky Hager’s claims that his latest publication The Hollow Men was based conclusively on material gained from emails obtained from Dr Don Brash’s address. Nicky Hager says that his use of the emails was justified because they show that National had been acting unethically and dishonestly, and getting away with it. Dr Brash got an injunction to stop them from being published, and in TV3’s application to have it thrown out Carol Hirschfeld said the emails were in the public interest and blocking them would be an unreasonable restriction on freedom of expression. Whether or not those emails are private, spam, or items of public interest, I suspect that this is not the last we have heard of that scandal.
We are pleased with the Commerce Committee’s suggestion that Internet service providers not have to deal with the complaints about spam, because, at 350 million messages a month, they would be doing nothing else but answering their mail. I include here the Māori Internet Society, Te WhanauIpurangi, which promotes a strong Māori presence on the Internet and lobbies for Internet administrators to better accommodate Māori needs. I know that it certainly does not have time to deal with the thousands of complaints that it would receive about spam.
I want to raise a couple of other matters about commercial and promotional spam, pre-recorded voice-over phone calls, and unsolicited messages that come in the form of junk mail. I turn to the comments of the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, which are a bit “out there”, that the Government’s failure to follow through on the New Zealand waste strategy “undermines the whole process of democratic engagement with government”. He went further to suggest: “This loss of confidence may raise questions about government’s commitment to the NZWS”. That raises the question of why the Government does not also take action to stop the phone and mailbox trash while it is dealing with the electronic trash.
The drain that electronic spam places on personal and professional productivity will only increase as Internet traffic itself increases. Here in Aotearoa, Internet access has increased in the last 6 years, for Māori from 27 percent to 47 percent, and for Pacific Islanders from 11 percent to 40 percent. Although the total for Polynesians is still dramatically lower than that for Europeans, who are on 65 percent, and that for Asians, who are on 80 percent, if the trend is anything to go by access to the information highway will only increase. The Māori Party will support the Unsolicited Electronic Messages Bill in order to ensure that our access to that information highway remains free and open. Kia ora koutou.
ERIC ROY (National—Invercargill) : I would like to take a brief call on the Unsolicited Electronic Messages Bill. I have listened with a great deal of interest to the debate as it has taken place this afternoon, and it is pretty clear that the bill has enough support to pass its second reading in the House and ultimately become law. But I wonder why we are passing this law. It is not because of the argument that has been proposed, that this can have only a minimal effect. The point I make is that we are passing a law, and in the course of the debate this afternoon we have seen a past member of the executive of this Government, the Hon Paul Swain, use stolen material gleefully and for what he perceived to be his or the Government’s advantage. We know that this material was stolen. We know that it is the subject of a police inquiry. It has been purloined from the privacy of some people’s computers by a series of acts that could only have been calculated and then perpetrated for gain.
So here we are passing a bill saying: “Joe Public out there, do not spam us.” We have laws about stealing and laws about using stolen goods. But we have had an example this afternoon of a past member of the executive gleefully using stolen goods. I ask the House what sort of an example that is. What sort of a role model is that? We hold up our hands in disgust when we hear of people in State houses subletting them and going into their own private homes. Again, if we want the public of New Zealand to behave in a way that is acceptable, the standard that we as leaders of this nation set cannot be compromised. I believe that this afternoon we have seen a degree of compromise that I have not witnessed here for some time. I am concerned, and no doubt this will not be the last of it, but I say to the House this afternoon that if the members opposite were not part of the conspiracy to steal, then why are they now so gleefully and with complicity using the material? Their very action today approves what happened, whether or not they were involved. They are sanctioning, by their behaviour, what went before. The question that I will leave in this respect is—
Hon Judith Tizard: I raise a point of order, Madam Assistant Speaker. My understanding of the Standing Orders is that it is absolutely against the Standing Orders to imply that anyone in this House who is involved in any criminal act whatever, let alone a conspiracy to steal, as that member asserted. I am outraged.
ERIC ROY: Speaking to the point of order, Madam Assistant Speaker, I have not asserted that anyone stole; I have asserted that people have been using stolen goods. Madam Speaker, you allowed this debate to be advanced when you—
The ASSISTANT SPEAKER (Ann Hartley): No, just speak to the point of order.
ERIC ROY: The point is that you have allowed this section of the debate to be promoted by myself now by allowing the debate in the name of the Hon Paul Swain. I am just responding to that.
The ASSISTANT SPEAKER (Ann Hartley): The member certainly did not accuse any member of stealing. He raised it as an issue. The member will continue.
ERIC ROY: I will wrap up now. I simply want to say that I and the public of New Zealand, and can I say to members of the Opposition, the police, will want to know what the Government knew and when it knew it. The Government’s behaviour over the next few weeks will be of great interest to myself, the public, and the police.
DARREN HUGHES (Labour—Otaki) : I rise to take a call on the second reading of the Unsolicited Electronic Messages Bill. It has been reported back to us from the Commerce Committee, which has made a few changes to the bill that was referred to it by the House at its first reading.
Can I just pick up on the point made by the member for Invercargill. His basic assertion was that some emails were stolen and were turned into a book, and that Labour should ignore that because they were stolen, even though there are 3,000 copies around the country of a book containing all the details of these emails. That is patently absurd.
Hon Mark Gosche: It’s embarrassing, though.
DARREN HUGHES: It is embarrassing for them, I accept that. The unsolicited emails have been foisted on the country; none of us asked for these emails. They have turned up in a book, and they are unsolicited in that regard.
One of the most important things the Commerce Committee did was to delete references to promotional messages. It decided that when it came to spam, it was too hard to define what a promotional message was; it would be problematic to try to determine what a promotional message was. This is a very interesting point, and Mr Hide, Mr Harawira, Mr Roy, and my colleague the Hon Paul Swain have commented on what these promotional messages might be.
We have seen unsolicited promotional messages quite a lot lately—most recently, of course, in this book that has been referred to several times throughout the debate. I wonder whether the select committee possibly had that in mind when it was looking at deleting that reference to promotional messages. Of some of the emails that have been sent around this country, we know that one email was sent on 24 May to the Leader of the Opposition, Mr Key. That was a promotional email message, because it actually offered services to assist in the National Party campaign. The email, which was an unsolicited electronic message, was headed: “Urgent, Important and Strictly Confidential”. The letter began: “Good afternoon Don and John, Doug Watt and myself enjoyed your presentation this morning at Millennium Hotel.” In that sense, the author was trying to personalise the message, even though it was an unsolicited one in terms of the promotional message provisions of the bill.
The email goes on to explain how the Exclusive Brethren sect had been involved in a defence campaign. The Brethren actually had a misleading campaign saying that the Labour Government had decreased the amount of money being spent on defence in this country, when in actual fact we have rebuilt the armed forces of this country while we have been in Government, with some significant increases in defence resourcing. The email goes on to state: “Basically, we believe marketing is the name of the game.” Of course, the bill as reported from the select committee refers quite a lot to marketing being the purpose of a message, and there is reference to clause 6 being removed.
The email states: “Whilst the meeting this morning was excellent it would not have got one extra vote for National. (Everyone there is going to vote National anyway). Getting the message out and to a younger age bracket is paramount.”—because the Exclusive Brethren are quite in touch with the youth of New Zealand, being on the hip side of things. The author of the email believed that that was a paramount goal, and said: “time is of the essence. Our campaign (a total of seven nationally distributed flyers) is direct and simple:—It creates and demonstrates MISTRUST in the current Government. It builds TRUST in a DON BRASH led National Government.” That was the unsolicited promotional message sent to the National Party on 24 May.
Why do I mention that date? It is because later in the year the National Party, including the Leader of the Opposition, tried to argue that National knew very little about the Exclusive Brethren’s role in the election campaign, the unsolicited electronic messages they were sending, and the promotional material and services they were offering. In actual fact, John Key has said that even though the email was sent to him—and that is demonstrated by the material in front of me in the book—he did not open it. I ask colleagues in the House how on Earth one remembers an email one never read. If one never knew one had received it and one never opened it, how did one know that one had not actually seen it in the first place? Can this be so? No one really bought that as an argument.
Then Mr Key had to move to the next stage, whereby he made what I would call the President Bill Clinton defence: “I did not have email relations with that sect.” That seemed to be the defence—that he did not have any email relations with that sect, at all. That was getting to the point of being preposterous. Although the message was unsolicited—I accept that; National did not ask for this email to come forward from the Exclusive Brethren sect—it was offering promotional services to, and was trying to market the putting across of messages for, the National Party. Part of the bill addresses the issue of address harvesting, and of how people are able to get email addresses and then bombard people with messages. That is in the book as well, funnily enough. The book says that addresses were harvested from various National MPs. One thing I am interested in, building on the point that Mr Key said he had no idea that the Exclusive Brethren were involved in the National Party campaign and that he did not remember opening the email that he did not remember receiving back in May, is what else was happening.
I read in the book that some bloke in Napier, a Mr S Lusk, who was a campaign manager for the National Party, said in an email that he was shown details and copies of Exclusive Brethren election advertisements that had been shown to other National members of Parliament. So an unsolicited email came in from a campaign manager in Napier who said that he was with National MPs who were shown copies of the Exclusive Brethren election advertisements, and that some of the MPs were a little uncomfortable about it. Well, I bet they were. I bet they were uncomfortable about that in terms of what the bill does to try to deal to this concern about unsolicited electronic messages that offer marketing services and that try to put out promotional messages to people. It is absolutely farcical that a campaign manager in a provincial city could know about these things and the leaders of the party could not. But, as we know, the email was not opened and could not be remembered, even though it was already in John Key’s in-box.
What the bill is trying to do in cracking down on electronic messages is a very important measure. It is a frustration to many members of Parliament that they cannot get into the decent emails sent by constituents because there is so much spam. As a speaker previously said, we still have to go into the Mimesweeper programme and scroll through emails, because genuine messages are often captured by that programme, and we want to make sure we are not missing out on those. It becomes quite a difficult issue for members of Parliament, members of the public, and those conducting legitimate e-commerce activities to put up with.
One other aspect is the market research that goes on by way of unsolicited electronic messages. In that regard, I notice that Crosby/Textor, a public relations company that I understand the National Party has quite an intimate relationship with, has done some work on how to communicate electronically. I am sure there is rich material indeed in this book.
I make one other point regarding messages containing links to other websites. I have been using a series of examples to try to highlight the changes the select committee has made to the bill, and there is an amendment around spam that links to other websites. I was interested in the role that the so-called non-partisan Maxim Institute played in emails to the National Party. The institute gave website links to its organisation, showing very clearly who it was trying to assist in the last election campaign.
When we go through it all, we see that primary resources we have are rich material. We can line these emails up against the bill and see whether the bill would be effective in the case of these messages—
Simon Power: Sit down!
DARREN HUGHES: —which I know are of enormous embarrassment to the member for Rangitikei, but which sadly exist. I say to Mr Roy that the Labour Party is not responsible for these emails coming into the public domain. [Interruption] The Labour Party was not involved in hacking into others people’s computers or any of the other things that Mr Finlayson is talking about. He thinks it is possible on his Commodore 64 to hack into the parliamentary server. I do not have quite the same confidence in the ability of members of Parliament and their information technology skills in that regard. But what I do absolutely know is that now that the emails have been made public and made into a book, it would be wrong of Parliament not to put its attention to some of the unsolicited electronic messages going between National and the Exclusive Brethren, the racing industry, and the Maxim Institute. And, of course, there were the wonderfully rich emails—about which I have run out of time to inform the House—that were unsolicited electronic messages that members of the National front bench sent to their leader complaining about and bagging their own colleagues. I do not know whether there is a legislative solution to that; I suspect there is not. I think the problems have gone too far for the law to change that, but it is certainly worthy of the attention of members of Parliament. I am very happy to support the second reading of this important legislation.
- Bill read a second time.