July 30th, 2014 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

Attended the launch of the revamped Government portal, www.govt.nz, last night. With a goal of having 70% of transactions with the Government done online, it is important to be able to easily find out where to do them.

The site is clean and simple. Sensible categories, and information. I tried searching on various terms such as “pay tax” and “Milford Track and it came up with the page I wanted. The only term it didn’t cover was “tenders”.

So overall seems to be a successful revamp, that will be a good gateway for residents and organisations to use to find out where most Government information is online.

Offensive idiocy

July 9th, 2014 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

Canterbury Television was blocked by police from covering an earthquake memorial event at its former site after an apparent government blunder.

The Department of Internal affairs has apologised to Canterbury Television (CTV) after journalists were turned away from covering the arrival of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe yesterday.

Abe and his wife, Akie Abe, paid tribute to the people who died in the CTV building during the Christchurch earthquake. The pair laid a wreath at the site.

The building was where 115 of the 185 people who died in the February 2011 earthquake died.

Among those victims were employees of the station and 28 Japanese students*.

However, CTV’s head of news and content, Jacqui Shrimpton, said it received no notice of the site visit or what it entailed from the Department of Internal Affairs, which managed the event’s media coverage.

It is possible the DIA doesn’t have list or contacts for regional media, and just uses a national media list. But regardless, they should have regional media lists.

When a CTV journalist and cameraman arrived they had been ejected by police because their names were not on the list, Shrimpton said.

“We are frustrated and disappointed to not have been invited and were embarrassed in front of Christchurch media to have been sent away.”

Police had been apologetic, but strict security meant they could not allow the journalist and cameraman to stay.

The Police need to take some of the blame also. There’s a time to follow orders blindly, and there’s a time to use some discretion. At a minimum the officers should have checked higher up the line, until someone with authority could say of course you should let CTV staff in, so long as they have ID (which they would have).

The combination of the DIA oversight and the Police inflexibility combined in what really was a quite offensive way, albeit unintentionally – blocking CTV from covering a memorial at their own former site.

Hollywood wants DIA child porn filter extended to copyright

July 4th, 2014 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

3 News reports:

It has been revealed top Hollywood studios asked for access to a controversial government-run internet filter – so they could stop Kiwis accessing pirate and torrent websites.

RadioLIVE reported the Motion Pictures Distributors Association wanted access to the Internal Affairs child pornography filter, so they could block access to copyrighted material.

But they were knocked back by the Government and Internal Affairs Minister Peter Dunne says that it is partly because internet service providers refused.

“They were not prepared to agree to that extension and in any case it would have shifted the mandate somewhat from DIA’s primary focus on preventing sexual abuse of young children.”

The child pornography filter is a voluntary one.

It is good to see the Government knocked the request back. If I want a filtered Internet, I’d live in China.

When the voluntary DIA filter was introduced, many of us were nervous that one day other groups would try to extend it beyond the narrow remit of child abuse images, and try to have it block all material that different groups want blocked. As it is voluntary, that can’t happen easily – ISPs would stop using it. But beware the day when a political party proposes making it mandatory.

Well done Silverstripe

February 8th, 2013 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

Tom Pullar-Strecker at Stuff reports:

Government websites will switch to free, open-source software from Wellington firm Silverstripe under an “all-of-government” contract …

DIA last year chose 33 firms to design and develop websites for government agencies through separate all-of-government web services contracts. The decision to pick Silverstripe as its “common web services platform” following a tender means those firms will use Silverstripe’s software in place of about 50 other content management systems when carrying out work for government agencies. …

Don Christie, co-chairman of NZ Rise, which lobbies on behalf of domestic information technology suppliers, said the win was “fabulous” for Silverstripe, which employs 50 people. The company was founded by three Wellington College and Scots College graduates in 2000 – Tim Copeland, Sam Minnee and Sigurd Magnusson, who still own 84 per cent.

Although its software is free, Silverstripe earns money from add-ons and consulting.

Silverstripe rose to prominence in 2008 when its software was used to manage the website for the United States Democrats’ National Convention at which Barack Obama was selected as the party’s presidential candidate.

Air New Zealand switched from a Microsoft content management system to Silverstripe the following year.

Silverstripe is a great local success story, and they go from strength to strength.

DIA official told “to stop asking questions” about Liu

May 26th, 2012 at 12:26 pm by David Farrar

Jared Savage in the NZ Herald reports:

The public servant who handled the citizenship application of a millionaire Chinese businessman with multiple identities was told by his boss to “stop asking questions”, a transcript of court evidence shows.

Nothing to see here, just move on.

Mr Gambo wanted to make further inquiries with immigration authorities in Australia.

“I had a phone call that I was told not to ask any more questions because there was a lot of political pressure to send the file to Wellington.

“I was told to just process the file, send it to Wellington, don’t worry about asking any more questions.

“I have been working there for seven years and that was the first time I have had my boss phone me about an application.”

This is what is at the heart of the case. That a man with friends in the Labour Party, got special treatment.

Shane Jones has previously said he granted Mr Yan citizenship on humanitarian grounds because an Internal Affairs official told him Mr Yan risked execution if he returned to China.

Yesterday, an Internal Affairs spokesman said the files on the case had now been checked and there was no record of a departmental official discussing that issue with Mr Jones.

“We are not saying absolutely that didn’t happen, but we don’t have any [record of it].”

The execution in China angle was pushed by Yan, and his lawyer (who also happens to be Dover Samuels’ lawyer). As far as I am aware they have never provided a shred of proof. Anyone can assert something. What a competent Minister does is ask for proof, or at least consider the plausibility of the claims, such as will being a citizen rather than a permament resident in any impact whether or not he goes to China, and how consistent is it to claim to be Falun Gong, which bans gambling, and spent millions at Sky City casino.

Photo DNA

March 22nd, 2012 at 11:56 am by David Farrar

Fairfax reports:

Internal Affairs has teamed up with Microsoft to develop software to detect child sex abuse images.

The PhotoDNA software will be used during the forensic analysis of a seized computer, to identify known abuse images.

Internal Affairs minister Amy Adams said it was common for the ministry’s censorship compliance unit to review more than 100,000 images files on seized computers.

“This technology will make the process much faster. It will also allow a greater level of information sharing with our international partners as more systems come online that use this technology.

“New Zealand is one of the first countries in the world to have access to this technology, which gives investigators another valuable tool to help us in the fight against this problem.”

Generally I’m skeptical of technological “solutions” to child abuse images due to the problem with false positives. Filtering software for example sometimes block legitimate sites.

But this initiative is not like this. How PhotoDNA works is it uses a “fingerprint” of the images, which means only known objectionable images are flagged by automated PhotoDNA scans. More precisely, the basis for PhotoDNA is a technology called “robust hashing,” which calculates the particular characteristics of a given digital image — its digital fingerprint or “hash value” — to match it to other copies (and variations) of that same image.

So basically a human views the image once, and classifies it as a child abuse image, and then creates a hash value of it, so it can be easily detected in future. As I understand it, DIA will not use in its filtering but for when the seize a computer under warrant.

If the computer has 100,000 images on it, they will no longer has to review each one. They can run this software on it, and if it says it find 5,000 matches, then they’ll review those 5,000 only. It is possible there will be some other objectionable images in the other 95,000 – but for prosecution purposes they don’t need an exact count.

Some general info on PhotoDNA is here. As I said, while I am usually skeptical, a technological solution which doesn’t create false positives is a very good tool to be using.

Faxes now covered by anti-spam law

October 28th, 2011 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

DIA announced last week:

From tomorrow (20 October) unsolicited commercial faxes will count as spam.

The schedule of the Unsolicited Electronic Messages Act 2007 has been amended to remove ‘facsimiles’ from the list of exempt electronic messages. This means that an individual or company may no longer send a commercial fax, with a New Zealand link, to a recipient that has not consented to receiving the message.

Internal Affairs, which regulates the Act, has received many inquiries from people receiving unsolicited commercial faxes, since the Act came into force in 2007, but could take no action because faxes were excluded.

I had a hand in the formulation of the anti-spam law. The reason faxes were not included at the time was because the cost of sending them was deemed significant enough to mean that no regulation was needed.

It costs an advertiser actual money to direct mail you, to letterbox drop you or (in the past) to phone/fax you.  The cost of the marketing provided an incentive to only send marketing messages if they made enough money to cover the cost. Hence why you only get 20 or so items of junk mail a week, instead of 2,000.

E-mail though had different economic properties. It cost basically nothing to send, and the recipient effectively pays for it (in time and money). Hence why pretty much every country in the OECD has anti-spam laws. It’s a version of theft.

With more and more telecommunications being done over the Internet, I think it is the right call to include faxes. With VOIP and the like the marginal cost of fax spam is so low that there is little economic deterrent.

More on BMWs

February 16th, 2011 at 1:36 pm by David Farrar

Maggie Tait at NZPA reports:

The Internal Affairs Department is responsible for a decision to provide the Government with brand new BMWs when the old ones were only three years-old, Prime Minister John Key says.

My first response to reading this is that sure DIA made the decision, but they must have got sign off from at least their Minister – or at least notified him. So I thought this was just trying to avoid blame.

Mr Key said a six-year deal for the cars was signed by Labour with a three-year rollover clause.

“That decision to invoke that rollover and bring new cars in was made by the Department of Internal Affairs without reference either to their minister or to me,” he told reporters.

However reading on, the PM says that the decision was made without reference to the Minister or PM at all. That indicates that not only did they not approve of it, they were not even told of it.

If this is the case, then DIA should get a bit of a bollocking for this. Departments are meant to operate a no surprises policy with Ministers, and 34 new BMWs should definitely qualify as meeting the threshold for no surprises.

Mr Key found out about the new cars when one of the drivers told him.

That is not the way the Minister for Ministerial Services should find out.

“It’s not a situation where we as the Government have decided to do that, the department just made that decision.”

The department did not think it had to check as it had authority from the former Labour Government.

The Department was wrong. They should have checked.

Earlier, Finance Minister Bill English was critical of Labour’s original contract and Green Party criticism of the Government spending in tight financial times.

“It’s a bit rich from the Greens because one of the reasons the Labour Government bought the BMWs was because they were meant to reduce carbon emissions, they were meant to be the most fuel efficient cars even though their capital cost might have been higher than other options,” he told Radio New Zealand.

“I think it does show that being driven by a fad, which at the time was to have lower carbon emissions, means that you can make decisions — which were made by the previous Government — turn out more expensive than they expected.”

Mr English said when the contract came up for renewal the Government would see if there was a better deal and probably a “more mainstream model of car”.

“I don’t think a Government in the current recession would decide to pick a luxury brand car with all those extra bits…whatever the value for money.”

If no Minister was even informed of the new BMWs, then blaming them is a bit unfair. But the damage has probably already been done in terms of perceptions.

I still think DIA should be given a bollocking for not having the common sense to check with the current Government whether they wanted brand new BMWs to be turning up a few months befiore the election.

Judge Harvey on online gambling advertising

July 10th, 2010 at 10:49 am by David Farrar

The Herald has an interesting story on a ruling by Judge David Harvey:

The poker news websites went wild. “New Zealand Court Backs Poker” proclaimed gamblingonlinemagazine.com. “In a groundbreaking ruling a New Zealand court has delivered a huge blow to opponents of online poker, and poker in general,” said pokernewsboy.com.

“Though they may be an ocean away, the nation of New Zealand has fired a shot which could reverberate through the poker landscape,” said flopturnriver.com.

What they were all raving about was a ruling District Court Judge David Harvey delivered on June 23 which found that advertisements for Pokerstars.net and the Asia Pacific Poker Tour run on TV3 and C4 were not promoting online gambling.

The Department of Internal Affairs, which brought the case, has said it will appeal the decision.

The details of the case are interesting. Essentially pokerstars.net is a play money gambling site (which is legal) and pokerstars.com is a proper gambling site (which can not be promoted under NZ law). DIA argued that by advertising one, they were advertising both, essentially.

A feature of the case was the difference between the “dot net” and “dot com” Pokerstars websites. The .net site is for practise poker games using “play money”. The .com site has online poker with gambling for real money. A key plank of Internal Affairs’ case was that the use of the generic word “Pokerstars” in both the.net and .com domain names were two ways of saying the same thing. “It is the prosecution case,” says the judgment, “that the advertisements were de facto advertisements for pokerstars.com, using and emphasising the brand name ‘pokerstars’.”

I’m sceptical of that argument.

Judge David Harvey is widely regarded as New Zealand’s most technologically savvy judge. Appointed to the bench in 1988 he serves in the District Court holding warrants for general, jury and Youth Court jurisdictions. A former chair of the Copyright Tribunal, he lectures part-time in law and information technology at the University of Auckland, has been involved in the introduction of information technology for the Judiciary since 1990, and is the author of internet.law.nz – Selected Issues. A former international Mastermind champion (his speciality was J R R Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings), he writes widely on law and internet topics, is currently completing a PhD and has been active in making submissions on our laws relating to copyright and legislating against spam.

I first met Judge Harvey through the old Internet newsgroups on Usenet. He qualifies as a genuine geek 🙂

This time around Judge Harvey appears to have taken an important lesson from his earlier mis-step – that judges must always make the reasons for their decisions abundantly clear. His judgment extends to 47 pages. It’s also New Zealand’s first digital judgment – a 9MB “PDF” digital document, complete with embedded video of the advertisements in question. It sits in the court file, not on paper, but on a CD.

Heh that is quite cool – an embedded video in a court judgement. A pity it does not appear to be online on the decisions of public interest site.

In response to the evidence of prosecution expert witness Professor Sarah Todd, a professor of marketing, Judge Harvey said he had concerns about the basis of her assumption – that there was a high chance those intending to go to the free pokerstars.net site, may in fact, end up on the pokerstars.com by accident. “Internet addresses are unforgiving of errors. A mistake in one letter of a domain name may produce a nil result or may direct a user to a completely different website.”

He then pointed out the sort of mistake suggested involves typing three wrong letters and seemed to overlook the fact the advertising was directed to online poker sites, anticipating an audience with some familiarity in the use of computers and the internet.

The judgment also goes through each of the advertisements – and provides the videos so that people reading the text can see for themselves what was being advertised. The web address shown in each advertisement is always pokerstars.net and often includes the words “this is not a gambling website” or “play for free”. In some of the ads, professional poker players are linked to popular sports – Noah Boeken plays soccer, Daniel Negreanu hockey and Isabelle Mercier boxes. Their commentaries include lines like, “Practise for free at the world’s largest poker site, pokerstars.net and find the pokerstar in you.”

Looks a very reasonable decision to me. Finding TV Works guilty for promoting a legal website on the basis it has a similar name to a website that can not be legally promoted, would set in my opinion an unhealthy precedent.

Update to story on media access for visit from Chinese VP

June 17th, 2010 at 1:12 pm by David Farrar

I blogged on Monday about complaints local Chinese media had not been able to get access to the visit of the VP of China.

DIA sent me on Tuesday an e-mail which I have attached to the original post. The key part is:

We can assure you there is no attempt to block the local Chinese media from attending various activities during the Vice President Xi JinPing’s visit or adopt any form of censorship. Invitations have been issued today to local media including Auckland and Wellington based Chinese media.

Better later than never!

More about online identification

September 15th, 2009 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

The Dom Post reports:

Internal Affairs has given businesses until Wednesday week to come up with proposals on how they could use and help support its $122 million online identity verification and log-on service. …

Several banks have expressed interest in using igovt to authenticate the identity of new customers, so that they can open bank accounts online.

Internal Affairs suggested that the system could also be used by online auction sites to verify traders’ identities.

Trade Me head of trust and safety Chris Budge says that could appeal, but it has questions over the use of a single ID and the risk of fraud.

A secure identity verification service could really open up both the public and private sectors online. I love the idea of being able to go to a bank online and say “I am David Farrar born on this date, and living at this address and here is the Government’s verification that I am whom I claim”. This then allows the bank to take you as a customer without you having to go to a branch.

With secure online verification, you should over time be able to access your credit history, your police file, your tax details online. You might even be able to use it for blog commenting, trade me auctions etc.

Some may say, how is this different from current systems such as Open ID. It will come down to the verification. For example it is possible one might actually have to turn up to an office with your passport to get verified as being that person, and given a login and password/s to verify who you are. And they could, once they have confirmed who you are, check your latest address with NZ Post for example.

I’ve not closely followed the exact details of the scheme being implemented, but the concept is something I am very supportive of.

igovt identity verification service

August 28th, 2009 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

Computerworld reports:

A review of igovt services has given the programme new legs with development continuing for a further two years at least.

Minister of Internal Affairs Nathan Guy says the government has agreed that the roll-out will continue following a review and a decision to “explore options for commercial sector involvement”.

Some parts of the programme, such as the igovt logon service, have already been delivered.

The igovt identity verification service (IVS) will go into operation later this year. This gives people a secure way of verifying their identity over the internet to access a range of government services.

“The review of the business case for the two igovt services shows that the programme is still viable, and the benefits are significant,” Guy says.

“The benefits over the 10 years from July 2009 are estimated to be between $321 million to $727 million from an investment of $65 million for the logon service, and between $320 million and $646 million from an investment of $57 million for the identity verification service.

I think there is huge potential if one can securely identify yourself to the Government online. Different agencies are doing some good stuff already. IRD now allows me to access huge amount of my tax info online. Ideally I’d love to also access my criminal/police record online, my ACC history, my hospital history etc.

Herald on Filtering Scheme

July 18th, 2009 at 8:34 am by David Farrar

The Herald editorial:

With money granted in this year’s Budget, it plans to provide internet providers with Swedish-devised software that matches site requests to a “banned” list and reroutes the requests to a government computer. The internet companies would have to volunteer to take part, unlike in other countries where compulsory filtering of paedophilic sites is proposed. Consumers would, then, be able to avoid filtering if they object on principle to such restrictions.

Technology commentators have raised concerns that this scheme could be the thin end of a wedge by which the state seeks to “filter” other internet material or sites that it, later, deems unwelcome. They are right to be concerned. The public’s freedom to “seek, receive and impart information and opinion of any kind and in any form” is protected by section 14 of the Bill of Rights Act.

Yet even that law recognises there can be reasons to over-ride that freedom. Reducing the demand for, and profits from, material depicting child sexual abuse would surely qualify in the public mind as one of them.

A tightly targeted, voluntary scheme including most internet providers is better than a compulsory regime. Those deciding what cannot be accessed must themselves be regularly reviewed to ensure the scheme stays strictly on track.

As I previously blogged, I would look to have the Auditor-General’s Office regularly vet the scheme against its publicly stated mandate.

On balance, because of the gravity of the offences against children, and the prevalence of the problem, with 26 convictions in this country in the past six months for collecting or distributing child sex abuse images, some restriction seems justifiable. Limited censorship is the lesser of two evils.

The expert advice I have is that the filtering scheme will not stop the hard core offenders. They trade in chat rooms, Usenet groups etc and will use overseas ISPs if necessary to get around any filters.

What the scheme *may* do is help prevent those “curious” about child porn from acting on their curiosity and end up breaking the law. Some of those go on to get “addicted” to  such images and become professional traders etc.

So no one should think the filtering scheme will make a massive difference to the demand for illegal material. However that is not to say it won’t make some difference – and as the Herald says you have to weigh that up.

DIA and the Child Porn Filter

July 17th, 2009 at 8:44 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Internet service providers will soon begin blocking access to hundreds of websites that are on a secret blacklist compiled by the Department of Internal Affairs, but critics say the system lacks transparency.

Some ISPs – those that choose to use the service.

There are two sorts of views about the desirability of a voluntary filtering scheme to block child pron sites. Both have some validity.

One view is that any sort of filtering sets a bad precedent. That if you accept a filter for child porn sites, then someone may propose a filter for copyright infringing sites, or sites that advocate crime, or sites that are defamatory of someone. The concern is that this is the thin end of the wedge. The argument is you don’t block sites to stop people breaking the law, you prosecute them afterwards for doing so.

The other view is that if ISPs do not act to voluntarily block access to child porn sites, then it will give ammunition to those who want compulsory filtering such as in Australia, and that such compulsory filters may be far wider than just child pornography. It is better for most ISPs to have input into a voluntary filtering scheme, than have a compulsory one implemented on them.

The department this week announced its new Digital Child Exploitation Filtering System, which it said would help fight child sex abuse. The $150,000 software will be provided free of charge to ISPs in a couple of months and will reroute all site requests to Government-owned servers. The software, called Whitebox, compares users’ site requests with a list of banned links. If a match is found, the request is denied. It will not cover email, file sharing or borderline material.

The best info on the proposed scheme comes from Thomas Beagle who has an FAQ on it.

Critics say the system has been introduced by stealth and lacks accountability. The department will not disclose the 7000 objectionable websites for fear “inevitably some people would visit them in the interim”, effectively facilitating further offending and making the department party to the further exploitation of children.

Through my work with InternetNZ, I got briefed on the proposed scheme some months ago.To be honest I did not realise until recently that info on the proposed scheme wasn’t in the public domain. As DIA had been talking to various ISPs, I just assumed it wasn’t a big secret. I actually suggested the DIA be invited to make a presentation to the InternetNZ AGM, which is a public forum, and they seemed relaxed at that. I suspect it has been “secret” more by neglect rather than design.

InternetNZ has had a healthy constructive relationship with DIA for some years. Around four years ago we supplied a technical expert to test the UK filtering scheme, and to check for stuff like false positives – ie does the filter block sites that are not hosting child pornography.

In terms of listing the websites that will be blocked, I have some sympathy for the notion that this is undesirable as it is like publishing a guide to find all the child porn sites. But I also understand that many people could be nervous with a regime of “Just trust the DIA”. A suggestion I made was that maybe one could have the Office of the Auditor-General empowered to audit the filter list every six months or so, to certify it has not been expanded beyond its mandate. Mind you I feel sorry for the poor staffer who would have to check some of the sites out to do such verificiation.

Internal Affairs censorship compliance head Steve O’Brien said the blacklist would be personally reviewed by staff each month and would be restricted to paedophilic content only.

This was a key area I quizzed the DIA staffer on. I am very much oppossed to filters that work on keywords, assumptions etc as these inevitable have false positives – they block sites they should not. A manually reviewed list is the only way to go.

Also essential (to me) is that the filter will be directed towards child porn sites only, and not all sites with “objectionable” content. While most prosecutions in NZ for “objectionable” content relate to child porn, the definition of objectionable is wider. It includes (for example) sex involving urine or faeces. It is somewhat strange that it is not actually illegal to perform or receive a golden shower, but it is illegal to view an imagine of a golden shower!

Now just so no one gets the wrong idea, I find the idea of sex involving wees or poos as bloody disgusting, and am not a champion for such practises. Yuck. But they are not like child porn, in that child porn has actual real victims – the abused kids. So to my mind it is important a filer targets child porn only, and not the wider definition of all objectionable or illegal material. DIA agree, which is good. I imagine the fear of some people is that the definition could be widened in future. For my part I don’t detect any desire on behalf of DIA to grow it in future. They have a pretty nasty job to do, and generally do it pretty well. That is not to say I agree with everything they do.

Filtering systems in Australia, Denmark and Britain have been accused of serious flaws, with unexplained blacklistings of straight and gay pornography, Wikipedia articles and small businesses.

Yep errors do get made. However there is a system to get a decision reviewed if you get told a site is blocked, and you think it should not be.

Mr Beagle said he favoured providing optional clean feeds for users, but believed Governments would be tempted to expand the blacklist in reaction to events.

I am against any filter being compulsory for ISPs. And I agree user level decisions are best. But personally I am pretty relaxed about individual ISPs making a decision about whether or not they would use the DIA filter – so long as they do so transparently and inform customers they have done so. Some ISPs may even use it as a marketing tool that they provide a slightly “safer” environment, while other ISPs may choose not to take part, and use the fact they are unfiltered as a marketing tool.

What would I do if my ISP, choose to use the DIA filter? So long as it was restricted to child porn sites only, and so long as there was some sort of external review (such as the Office of the Auditor-General), I would stay with that ISP.

Some ISPs could even choose to provide it as an option for customers to select as a preference, but I understand that require a bit more than just a line of code.

Liu arrested

July 4th, 2009 at 11:13 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Police have charged a multi-millionaire businessman, who was granted New Zealand citizenship in controversial circumstances, with making false declarations on immigration papers and using fake identities to obtain a passport.

Yong Ming Yan – also known as Bill Liu, Yang Liu and William Yan – was supported in his citizenship bid last year by Labour MPs Dover Samuels and Chris Carter, and National MP Pansy Wong.

To be fair to Chris Carter and Pansy, they had no idea he was dodgy. Dover did know of the allegations but chose not to believe them. But most of all Shane Jones had all the details from his departments about Liu, including a very firm recommendation that he not be given citizenship. In fact even then they were talking about prosecuting him.

He appeared in Manukau District Court, and is facing 12 charges in relation to false declarations on his immigration papers, having false passports and using deception to gain citizenship.

Yan entered no plea to eight charges under the Crimes Act, two under the Passport Act and one under each under the Immigration Act and Citizenship Act.

And authorities have obviously decided there are sufficient ground to prosecute.

He was granted citizenship in a VIP ceremony in Wellington last year after lobbying from former Labour MP Dover Samuels, who regards him as a close friend.

Rick Barker, the then Internal Affairs Minister charged with approving citizenship applications, was also on the list of politicians who knew Yan. Because of this, he passed the file to another minister, Shane Jones.

Mr Jones overruled Internal Affairs advice that Liu – now Yan – did not meet character requirements and granted him citizenship.

Mr Jones, now the Opposition spokesman for economic development and the environment, last night declined to comment.

Sooner or later Jones need to explain why he over-rode the advice from officials. Citizenship is not a right for people not born here, and those who get it should be of sound character. DIA did not think he was. Was Jones influenced by Liu’s donations to political parties and candidates? Was he convinced by his mate’s lobbying? Whatever it was, we need to know. If Liu is convicted, there should be a formal external inquiry into why he was granted citizenship.

Dom Post smacks up Feslier

March 14th, 2009 at 10:54 am by David Farrar

The Dom Post’s editorial on Thursday was about Colin Feslier and the misleading over Winston’s car:

This newspaper has never found Mr Feslier, a former Radio New Zealand journalist and press secretary to Labour cabinet minister Margaret Wilson, easy to deal with: he dithers, he stalls and he obfuscates. But it is one thing to be unhelpful and another to mislead. No-one could read his email exchanges with journalists and colleagues and conclude that this was not his purpose.

Harsh language, but true it seems.

His sins are not in the same league as those of the former Immigration Service spokesman who was found a few years ago to have “deliberately dissembled” over the existence of the infamous “lie in unison” memo, but they are indicative of an unhealthy culture that has developed within some, but not all, parts of the public service as the number of spin doctors employed by government agencies has mushroomed.

And the lie in unison memo was covered up also in an internal whitewash.

Presumably, Mr Feslier acted as he did because he wanted to spare his bosses embarrassment over the 10 weeks it had taken them to try to reclaim public property from Mr Peters property that might still be unaccounted for if the news media had not asked questions.

But it is not his job to burnish his bosses’ images or to shield them from legitimate public scrutiny. Nor is it his job to deny the public access to information it is entitled to have.

Hopefully OIA requests will also be dealt with in a more timely manner.

Another blog story not credited

March 9th, 2009 at 6:54 pm by David Farrar

As I blogged earlier, Whale Oil broke the story of the DIA misleading journalists in relation to inquiries over Winston’s ministerial car.

TV3 covered the story tonight, which was great. But it is regrettable they didn’t credit Whale Oil with the story. As far as I know, no-one else had the documents he obtained. Maybe they sourced it independently, but I know the blog post in question had been seen by them.

TV3 got Dom Post Deputy Editor on camera saying it was a cover up. Godo on them for not mincing words. I do wonder why the Dom Post did not publish at their time, their belief DIA misled them, let alone ask for documents under the OIA?

I enjoyed Phil Goff criticising DIA for the cover up. Who would have ever though a story started by Whale Oil would end up having Phil Goff agreeing with it 🙂

UPDATE: A TV3 staffer has confirmed with me that they did receive the DIA documents independently, and were not reliant on the blog story. Hence the issue of credit does not apply. Appreciate the update from them.

Dom Post accuses DIA of mislading it

March 9th, 2009 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

Whale Oil has some documents from the DIA in regards to how theyhandled media inquiries into Winston’s non-returned cars, and they show a Department that stonewalled so much, the Dom Post Chief reporter gets really upset:

DIA staffer Colin Feslier e-mailed his bosses saying:

“I have managed I think to get TVNZ, TV3 and the DomPost to terminate their interest in this non-story.”

Then after the Sunday newspapers lead with the story, the Dom Post Chief Reporter Hayden Dewes e-mails Feslier

“I was extremely disappointed to read in the Sunday Star-Times today (1/2/09) that Winston Peters was still in possession of his ministerial car.

This after two of our reporters had very clear correspondence with you last week, asking about this very issue, to which you responded by giving the very clear impression that the car was “sold back, or under our control”.

I struggle to see how a car that is parked outside a minister’s house, with no clear plans to pick up the keys or get it back to Wellington except to send another driver up to Auckland at some stage has been “sold back or under our control”

The fact is that as of Friday at least, Winston Peters still had possession of his ministerial car. It had not been returned. We asked about this and you misled us.”

Kudos to Whale Oil for submitting the OIA requests to expose this. More bloggers should do the same (including me).

Check the law

January 20th, 2009 at 2:35 pm by David Farrar

The Press reported this morning:

The Redwood home could be yours for a little more than $100, despite its rating value of $594,000.

The most the lucky buyer will pay is $1100.

Real estate agent Brad Maxwell and wife Janice own the Redwood property through a family trust and are selling it through a new sales method they hope will catch on.

Would-be buyers will book a seat at an internet auction for $100 each, with the lowest unique bid between 1c and $1000 getting the house.

The Maxwells have ensured they will not lose out on the deal. They have calculated that selling between 5000 and 6000 seats will bring in what they want for their home, and only then will the online auction run.

The DIA pointed out, this was illegal in several ways:

However, Internal Affairs gambling compliance manager Debbie Despard said today this was illegal gambling.

Despard said under the Gambling Act 2003 the auction was illegal in several ways.

“There is a huge element of chance in this so-called auction in which people pay to participate,” Despard said.

“It is also online gambling, which the Act defines as ‘remote interactive gambling’.”

Gambling with prizes exceeding $500 can only be conducted by societies raising money for authorised charitable purposes, she added. But this sales scheme was being conducted by a private person for personal profit and could not be licensed.

“Participating in illegal gambling is a criminal offence,” said Despard.

Furthermore, any sale and purchase agreement stemming from the auction would be on shaky ground because the Gambling Act says contracts relating to illegal gambling are illegal for the purposes of the Illegal Contracts Act.

Internal Affairs had advised the Trade Me and Premier Realty that the proposed sales method was illegal and was also contacting the Real Estate Institute of New Zealand.

DIA do a good job in educating people on the law. They’ve given me some helpful advice from time to time.

Having said that, our gaming laws are very restrictive and it would be great if the Government reviewed them with an eye towards permitting more gaming, so long as there is adequate transparency around the games.

I have problems with the TAB having a monopoly over sports betting, and the restrictions on online gaming which are more onerous than Australia.

But these are issues for the Government and ultimately Parliament.

First spam prosecution for New Zealand

October 15th, 2008 at 12:01 am by David Farrar

The Department of Internal Affairs has announced that three New Zealanders are being prosecuted for their roles in a global spam operation. That is terrific news, and is exactly one of the reasons why so many of us worked so hard to get an anti-spam law passed in New Zealand. Every party except ACT voted for it.

One of the spammers being prosecuted is the loathsome Shane Atkinson.  I filed complaints about him back in 2003. After he was exposed as a spammer and his neighbours told him what they thought of him sending penis enlargements spams to their kids, he publicly recanted and said he had given up spamming.

I always thought he was lying, and over the years received quite a bit of info suggesting he was still in business. The DIA seized computers off him and others last September, and they obviously provided the proof necessary. DIA say:

The Department of Internal Affairs has asked the High Court to impose financial penalties of $200,000 on each of three New Zealanders involved in a major international spamming operation. This is the first court action since the introduction of the anti-spam law, the Unsolicited Electronic Messages Act on 5 September 2007 and follows a raid on four Christchurch addresses last December.

The Department, in its Statement of Claim filed in Christchurch, alleges that company directors, Shane Atkinson, of Christchurch, his brother Lance Atkinson of Pelican Waters, Queensland and Roland Smits, courier of Christchurch, were involved in sending over two million emails to New Zealand addresses alone between 5 September and 31 December 2007, earning sales commissions of more than $US2 million from this global operation. The emails marketed Herbal King, Elite Herbal and Express Herbal branded pharmaceutical products, manufactured and shipped by Tulip Lab of India, through a business known as the Genbucks Affiliate Programme. This business was operated by Genbucks Ltd, a company incorporated in the Republic of Mauritius.

This is how spammer operate – through multiple countries. Again one reason it was important to make sure our country could not legally be part of the chain.

I look forward to the trial. Spamming can be very profitable off as low a response rate as 1 in 100,000, so the fines need to be big enough to be a disincentive to just pay the fines and carry on.

So well done to DIA on their first bust.