NZ govt considers major gaps in hacking law

Major gaps in New Zealand's criminal law relating to hacking are under consideration by the new Labour government.

The Ministry of Justice's briefing papers to the new minister, Margaret Wilson, say the present law leaves the door wide open to hackers and even the proposed legislation before Parliament's justice and law reform select committee does not go far enough.

The new Crimes Amendment Bill (number six), introduced last year, will only address some of the problems in the existing law, the papers say.

As reported in Computerworld in December, neither current legislation nor proposed amendments address hacking of IT systems.

This is seen as a gross deficiency by some lawyers specialising in this area.

"Instead of consulting with people in the industry on the real issues, the government has rushed through a half-hearted, patchwork approach that will leave many of the most serious problems unresolved," says Auckland-based law firm Clendon Feeney's managing partner Craig Horrocks.

The bill deals directly with misuse and damage to computers, creating specific offenses for such activity. The maximum punishment for such activity is seven years imprisonment.

However, while the clauses in that bill cover accessing computers for dishonest purposes or damaging other people's computers, as well as widening the definition of property offences to include intangibles such as credit or trade secrets, simple unauthorised access, or hacking, is not covered by the current bill.

The briefing papers to the minister only observe that the issue is complex and the Law Commission - which has done considerable work in this area - has changed its stance on the subject.

The commission recommended in May last year that hacking not be made an offense, and it appears that this approach is reflected in the current bill.

The commission's change of heart in its subsequent report of November last year has caused a rethink in the ministry, which is considering proposals for such a legislative move.

The commission initially took the view that the inclusion of intent to cause harm, or to gain some benefit or advantage was necessary to create a crime, and that "trophy hackers" are essentially a harmless nuisance.

The commission's new proposal covers straightforward illicit access.

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