Magic Maurice moments: Williamson on bloggers and all that

by Toby Manhire / 17 October, 2012
From Led Zep to mainframes: highlights from the National veteran's remarkable effort in the MSD data security debate.

An unenviable task: speaking from the government benches in a snap debate on the calamitous information security revealed by Keith "Kevin" Ng this week.

But up stepped the National veteran, Maurice Williamson, and unleashed a speech taking in Led Zep, the bloggers, mainframes, and the highest echelons of information security. It was pretty special.

Above is the video, and below you'll find excerpts of the text, as taken from the Hansard draft transcript.

Obviously, I'm not about to satirise or ridicule, but I can't control what you do.


Maurice Williamson: “I can say, I think, with a reasonable amount of credibility that I am one of only a few members in this House who made my living developing computer systems before I came to Parliament. Yes, it was actually prior to the internet coming to New Zealand.

“Even so, there were communication systems on the airline system which allowed people to hack into the mainframes of stuff we developed. Whenever an issue like this occurs, I think the Minister has, in the words of that great Led Zeppelin song, ‘there are two paths you can go by’.

“You can either try to hide, obfuscate the issue, justify what happened, and so on, or you can do what I think Minister Bennett has done absolutely admirably, and that is to be open, to admit there is a serious issue, to actually move heaven and earth to try to identify what the issue is, and to fix the matter urgently ...

“It can happen to any one of us. Just about every Minister in the Government has departments that have information held on their departments’ computers.

“God knows, on 5 March next year Statistics New Zealand, one of my ministries, will collect incredible information in the census about individuals. I have gone out of my way to ensure that that stuff will be protected and kept safe and that no individual records will be made available. But Minister Bennett did exactly what she should do.

“And I want to say to members on the other side of this House that it is quite possible these sorts of security breaches occurred while they were Ministers. It is quite possible that people would have been into the systems and seen information, but it did not quite get to be as exposed in those days because there were not things like bloggers around who felt it was really neat to get some coverage for blogging that stuff ...

“Yeah, blogging only came into fashion just towards the end of the Labour Government. Blogging has been around only four or five years now. It was not around in the early 2000s.

“I want to remind this House we did not even have the internet in New Zealand 20 years ago. It came in only in 1993, and we are in 2012. So it is not yet 20 years for the internet ...

“These sorts of things can and will happen again. They will happen even when there is another Government in this country in years to come as more and more information gets put online, as more and more sophisticated systems are out there, and as more and more sophisticated hackers find ways to go through some form of a click-box server in the Ukraine, come back via a pinhole in the firewall somewhere, and pick up stuff.

“Now what does that mean? Well, we could actually shut up shop and not put any information on the internet at all. We could go back to parchment and quill pens and go back to the old days, and I am sure there are some people around who think we should do that. But the rest of the world is moving on to putting its information on to information systems where they have phenomenal value, where people can go and read stuff, and so on.

“But, having said all that, there will always be risks. When I hear I think it was Chris Hipkins say that we should have got the Government Communications Security Bureau in, even the Government Communications Security Bureau will not be able to identify every hole in every piece of software wherever, and only when that hole or that security risk is found should the actual Minister, the department, the computer people, KPMG, and whoever else move heaven and earth to fix it, and that is what has gone on here.

“I actually ask all members of this House, especially from the Opposition, to be a bit careful about what they are advocating. I am happy for them to advocate that Ministers should step up to the mark and demand to find out how this happened. I am happy that she steps up to the mark and demands that immediate action is taken to close off the loop in it. I am happy that she demands—

[Interjecting] Lianne Dalziel: “Leadership on privacy!

Williamson: “I am hearing something from Lianne Dalziel about privacy. Paula Bennett, like every other member of this House, believes truly in the need for privacy for individuals. No one in this House wants privacy breaches of information to be out.

“This was a failure of an information technology system. I look at stuff that I have rolled out of my ministry. I look at things like SmartGate and the taking of photos as you come through customs and whether there may be a breach in that. I have asked and asked, I have been assured, and I have gone and had a look at it, and I am quite confident that there is not.

“But, if anyone ever identifies a breach in that I can assure you that, like Paula Bennett, I will move heaven and earth to close down the risks, to shut down that system, and only to reopen it when I am confident that we have found that particular bug. But I finish as I began: big issues can occur even across the most sophisticated developers in the world, and huge companies with billions of resources have identified those risks. Well, the Ministry of Social Development got this wrong, Paula Bennett has said so, and Paula Bennett is fixing it. I think we should be very proud to have a Minister of her calibre.”
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