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Harawira: Unsolicited Electronic Messages Bill

Unsolicited Electronic Messages Bill

Tuesday 05 December 2006

Hone Harawira, Member of Parliament for Te Tai Tokerau

When I first heard about SPAM, my first thought was of a Monty Python skit about canned meat; a skit set in a café with a group of Vikings wearing horned helmets, and whenever someone said SPAM, they begin singing and chanting. Eric Idle and Graham Chapman (playing his wife in drag) enter the café and ask what’s on the menu.

The waitress says, Well, there's

- egg and spam;

- egg bacon and spam;

- egg bacon sausage and spam;

- spam bacon sausage and spam;

- spam sausage spam bacon spam tomato and spam.

You get the idea – and sometimes when I check my email it’s like Monty Python all over again. Whether it’s Section 59, the Trans-Tasman Therapeutic Goods, or the Auckland Stadium, it’s all spam spam bacon spam tomato and spam.

Now while there’s a sense of the sublime and the ridiculous in all this, it’s also worth noting that spam comes in emails, text and instant messages from all over the place, at a rate of 350 million a month. This is big time nuisance stuff.

There are filters to counter spam, but they often delete good messages, and that’s the fear - that amongst a whole bag of rotten apples, there are often a couple of good ones, but they get dumped along with the bad ones.

I know this only too well because some of the excellent contributions the Maori Party has made in this House have been blocked by some email addresses, because of the use of some rather passionate vocabulary.

And of course, spam artists just bypass the filters by changing email addresses.

The thing is, spam is just plain hoha - crackers, slackers, viagra vendors and hackers, who attack web-sites and threaten computer security.

Spam reduces workers productivity; it creates workplace stress; it wastes network and computing resources; and it often perpetrates financial scams like those emails from somebody’s long lost Uncle Albert in Nigeria, who wants you to take his millions before a brutal new regime takes over (and you can have a couple of million yourself) … as long as you enter your bank account details.

And of course the whole issue of security and computer theft has surfaced spectacularly through the blaze of publicity surrounding controversial activist Nicky Hager’s claims that his latest publication, the Hollow Men, was based conclusively on material gained from emails obtained from Dr Brash’s address.

Nicky Hager says the emails were justified because they showed that National had been acting unethically and dishonestly, and getting away with it.

Don Brash got an injunction to stop them being published, and in TV3’s application to have his injunction thrown out, Carol Hirschfeld said the emails were in the public interest and that blocking them would be "an unreasonable restriction on freedom of expression”.

Whether or not these emails are private, spam, or items in the public interest – I suspect that this is not the last we’ve heard of the latest email scandal.

Mr Spam, we were pleased with the select committee suggestion that Internet service providers not have to deal with spam complaints, because at 350 million a month, they’d be doing nothing else but answering their mail.

And I note here the Maori Internet Society, Te Whanau Ipurangi who promote a strong Maori presence on the Internet, lobby for internet administrators to better accommodate Maori needs, and register domain names like "maori.nz", and I know they certainly don’t have time to deal with heaps of complaints about spam

Mr Speaker, there are a couple of other matters I want to raise here about commercial and promotional spam:

- pre-recorded voiceover phone calls delivering messages;

- and unsolicited messages coming in the form of junk mail.

And I return to comments of the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment that the Government’s failure to follow through on key actions of the New Zealand waste strategy “undermines the whole process of democratic engagement with Government”.

He went further to suggest that the loss of confidence “may raise questions about the Government’s commitment to New Zealand’s waste strategy” which raises the question about why government doesn’t also take action to stop the phone and mailbox trash, while they’re dealing with electronic trash.

Mr Speaker, 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 from 27% to 47% for Maori and from 11% to 40% for Pacific Islanders, and while the total for Polynesians is still dramatically lower than Europeans on 65% and Asians on 80%, if the trend is anything to go by; access to the information highway is only going to increase.

So the Maori Party will support the Unsolicited Electronic Messages Bill to ensure our access to that information highway remains free and open.


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