The Dim-Post

August 1, 2013

I am never right about these things

Filed under: Politics — danylmc @ 8:10 am

The Andrea Vance phone records scandal rolls on. Yesterday the PM tabled an email in Parliament appearing to support his ‘cock-up by low level contractor’ version of events. It shows the Henry inquiry administrator requesting the phone records for ‘any contact’ between a number of Ministers and Andrea Vance’s phone number, the Parliamentary Services contractor replying with Vance’s phone records attached, and the inquiry administrator’s reply insisting that they didn’t request that information and they’re not interested in looking at it.

But there are still a few problems. In no particular order:

  • Last week the Speaker’s office claimed that the Henry inquiry requested Vance’s phone records but Parliamentary Services refused to supply them. Now we’re told that Parliamentary Services supplied them, but the Henry inquiry didn’t request them. That seems like a weird and significant thing to get wrong.
  • Peter Dunne’s name isn’t on the list of Ministers whose records were requested in the email tabled by the Prime Minister
  • Peter Dunne alleges that Henry told him they could match his phone records against Andrea Vance’s
  • There’s also the email Patrick Gower obtained from the PMs CoS Wayne Eagleson. I don’t understand the significance of this email – it is clearly about Ministers and their staff, not journalists. But other people seem to think it’s important.

Here’s my working theory: there must be other requests for records from the Henry inquiry to Parliamentary Services that the PM has not yet released. At the very least they requested Peter Dunne’s phone and email records. Let’s say they also requested Andrea Vance’s phone records and the head of Parliamentary Services knocked them back and rapped their knuckles. Then, a few days later a ‘low level contractor’ supplies them with Vance’s phone records anyway, in a reply to an email that didn’t actually request them. So the inquiry sends a response elaborating that they didn’t ask for that data, because they were reprimanded about requesting it a few days earlier.

So Henry now has Vance’s phone records, and he mentions this to Peter Dunne. But in a semantic sense he doesn’t use Vance’s phone records because he doesn’t need to: he has Dunne’s phone records – and email logs – documenting Dunne’s communications with Vance.

32 Comments »

  1. There’s also the email Patrick Gower obtained from the PMs CoS Wayne Eagleson. I don’t understand the significance of this email – it is clearly about Ministers and their staff, not journalists. But other people seem to think it’s important.

    It’s “significant” only insofar as Eagleson has no authority/right/power to tell Parliamentary Services to do anything … even if the information sought was only to do with Ministers. And the fact that Parliamentary Services jumped at Eagleson’s request shows that they think the PM is in charge of them. Which he isn’t.

    It’s a “separation of powers” thing – the executive branch (Eagleson and the PM) can’t – and shouldn’t try to – tell the legislative branch (including Parliamentary Services) what to do. The fact none of them seemed to consider this might even be an issue shows a degree of “relaxedness” about some pretty fundamental aspects of our constitutional arrangements.

    Comment by Andrew Geddis — August 1, 2013 @ 8:36 am

  2. Just in response to Andrew, The PMs Office does have a relationship with Parliamentary Service, as Parliamentary Service provide support services to Ministers on behalf of Ministerial Services (which the PM is the Minister of). The PMO does have some authority when it comes to ministerial communications. It should not have authority over non-ministerial ones.

    When I worked in Min Servs, they provided the e-mail services to Ministers directly. For our sins, Lotus Notes was used. Back then, the PMO would just ask Min Servs directly to hand logs over to an inquiry. It is reasonable that they can ask Parl Serv the same.- so long as for Ministers and staff only.

    Having Min Servs and Parl Serv run seperate e-mail systems used to be a huge hassle, with compatibility issues and address book issues and the like. It is good they merged them together, but it has meant a blurring of accountability. Parl Serve needs to distinguish between their different “clients”.

    Comment by dpf — August 1, 2013 @ 9:33 am

  3. Yeah – if that is the case, then it is a problem … Dunne’s reason for refusing OIA requests for the emails between him and Vance is that these were sent in his capacity as a MP and leader of a Party, not a Minister. So if phone lines serve a dual purpose (some calls are Ministerial, some are an MP’s), then that’s a real can-o-worms.

    The better (and/or cleaner) process would have been for Eagleson to have told all the Ministers to personally tell Parliamentary Services that it could release their phone data, irrespective of its purpose.

    Comment by Andrew Geddis — August 1, 2013 @ 9:41 am

  4. ” But in a semantic sense he doesn’t use Vance’s phone records because he doesn’t need to: he has Dunne’s phone records – and email logs – documenting Dunne’s communications with Vance.” Ah yes but unless the phone logs list the origin of all inwards calls, Dunne’s log will not provide any information on calls she made to him.

    Comment by DavidW — August 1, 2013 @ 9:49 am

  5. DavidW, looking at my office phone on my desk, I see it (or rather the phone account that it accesses) contains a log of all incoming numbers (that stretches back at least a couple of months) and sorts them into Missed/Received/etc.

    I imagine that Dunne’s phone is much like any other modern office phone and does something similar.

    Comment by RJL — August 1, 2013 @ 9:58 am

  6. @ RJL

    Just because it’s in the memory of your phone is visible to you doesn’t necessarily mean it is captured and held in the phone billing / management system and so visible to an investigator.

    Comment by insider — August 1, 2013 @ 10:06 am

  7. I imagine that Dunne’s phone is much like any other modern office phone and does something similar.

    Every press gallery phone I have ever been called from is number blocked, and comes up as unknown caller on my caller ID. Which isn’t to say the information doesn’t exist (e.g. you can see it if they call a mobile), but if you’re talking about caller ID, it’s not quite that simple.

    Comment by Graeme Edgeler — August 1, 2013 @ 10:16 am

  8. Just because it’s in the memory of your phone is visible to you doesn’t necessarily mean it is captured and held in the phone billing / management system and so visible to an investigator.

    Actually, it pretty much does.
    Particularly given that the phones in question are likely to be attached to a PABX.

    Comment by Gregor W — August 1, 2013 @ 10:18 am

  9. insider – to clarify.

    You are correct in saying that there is a no data relationship between phone memory stored information and billing/management systems.
    You are incorrect in saying that routing/management systems (either local like PABX or network based) do not independently record information relating to call origin, termination and duration, irrespective of end user services such as Caller ID.

    Comment by Gregor W — August 1, 2013 @ 10:25 am

  10. The whole thing feels wrong.
    The only reason that anyone can access another persons email is because its IT based and is easily accessed. Equate it with NZ Post letters to an MP and it would be extremely difficult to access legally. I would imagine it would require some form of warrant and involve the police.
    Why anyone would think its not OK to read postal mail but its fine to read their emails is a distinction that needs tidying up. All mail electronic or snail should have the same level of protection. Would Parliamentary Services think it ok to enter an MP’s or a reporters office and open their postal mail and read contents? Or even inspect NZ Post mail before it was delivered to the recipient. I bet they would never do that. But they think it is OK to intercept electronic mail just because they can.
    I would imagine that the email system is some form of MS Exchange and it is so easy for any admin person to attach any mail account to their own and read, delete content. The owner of that mail would never be aware that their mail was accessed.
    A correctly designed e-mail system would alert owner if anyone accessed their email account and that information should be delivered to the owner in a way that it cannot be interfered with.
    I wonder if users are aware that everything they do on the email system can be shadowed and a copy of every transaction (email in and out and calendar entries) can be delivered to other people without any trace appearing in system. This journalling can be done at the smtp gateway before the email even gets into the email system proper.

    Comment by Ron — August 1, 2013 @ 10:25 am

  11. The conflicting reports about the situation are interesting and a little confusing. Maybe they did request the data from Vance’s number, maybe they didn’t. The confusion could also just be the result of poor communication or “chinese whispers”.

    The request for Dunne’s information was likely separate as he wasn’t a member of the National caucus as the others are. They gave their permission in the sense that they were instructed to co-operate, such an instruction presumably couldn’t be made to Dunne.

    Henry’s claim about matching the phone records is something of a red herring I think. I’m assuming either Henry or Dunne didn’t understand the technology correctly. With just Dunne’s phone records Henry could easily tell if any calls were made to or received from any of Vance’s numbers. They didn’t need any of Vance’s records for that as the phone records show numbers incoming and outgoing.

    I’m not sure what the point of Gower’s document is.

    As an aside – I’ve administered or had admin access to a few PABX-style phone systems. They all record call data for incoming and outgoing numbers. While they don’t receive caller ID information from blocked numbers, that wouldn’t make much difference for calls from Vance’s office phone to Dunne’s office as they are effectively an internal call so that information is available within the system (caller ID blocking is on the border between internal phone system and the public phone network – I’ve never seen caller ID blocking within a system).

    Comment by Dylan Reeve (@DylanReeve) — August 1, 2013 @ 10:28 am

  12. It’s “significant” only insofar as Eagleson has no authority/right/power to tell Parliamentary Services to do anything … even if the information sought was only to do with Ministers. And the fact that Parliamentary Services jumped at Eagleson’s request shows that they think the PM is in charge of them. Which he isn’t.

    Parliamentary Services is essentially the IT department for Parliament. Eagleson as a representative of the Prime Minister who is essentially “the boss” of the Ministers can request that Parliamentary Services provide records it holds about Ministers – effectively the Prime Minister’s employees.

    Similarly Fairfax could probably request that Parliamentary Services hand over records about Vance’s phone to them as she is their employee.

    Comment by Dylan Reeve (@DylanReeve) — August 1, 2013 @ 10:33 am

  13. Comment by Andrew Geddis – “…the fact none of them seemed to consider this might even be an issue shows a degree of “relaxedness” about some pretty fundamental aspects of our constitutional arrangements..”

    John Armstrong’s column on Wednesday made a similar criticism, albeit coded in his usual Kremlinese* – “…The Greens claim a culture has developed under John Key’s prime ministership where rules and rights are treated as expendable…”*

    A picture is developing of a PM who sees himself as Taylorist CEO of a corporation with absolutist power rather than a prime minister, inheritor of democratic and constitutional checks and balances centuries in the making.

    *In the USSR Armstrong would have been the political philosopher who who writes in an prominent paper “…Some claim that in the Leningrad party a culture has developed under comrade Keyvi’s leadership where Bolshevik rules and rights are treated as expendable…” which an alert reader would immediately understand as meaning the entire leadership apparatus in Leningrad had already been purged.

    Comment by Sanctuary — August 1, 2013 @ 10:36 am

  14. The whole thing feels wrong.

    I don’t think there was any reticence in the past re accessing peoples’ physical mail. The change has been it’s now far more feasible to access communication – and there’s more communication and records of that communication to access.

    It’s the main reason for the upsurge of leaks in the US. It’s now a lot easier to do.

    Comment by NeilM — August 1, 2013 @ 10:43 am

  15. ie we think we’re making decisions but really technology is, Kubrick etc

    Comment by NeilM — August 1, 2013 @ 10:44 am

  16. The difference being that interference with HM Mail System is a criminal offence and would be treated fairly seriously. I doubt that any state employee would steam open postal mail without a warrant authorising them to so do and that would have required police involvement

    >>I don’t think there was any reticence in the past re accessing peoples’ physical mail. The change has been it’s now far more feasible to access >>communication – and there’s more communication and records of that communication to access.

    Comment by Ron — August 1, 2013 @ 11:01 am

  17. dpf: “Having Min Servs and Parl Serv run seperate e-mail systems used to be a huge hassle, with compatibility issues and address book issues and the like. It is good they merged them together”

    Is this about the time that Datacom took over, and was it part of the recent programme to centralise services? Or has Datacom been doing it for ages?

    I guess I’m just curious if the management and protection of this info is a responsibility that’s recently been delegated from the public service to private contractors.

    Comment by izogi — August 1, 2013 @ 11:02 am

  18. The difference being that interference with HM Mail System is a criminal offence and would be treated fairly seriously. I doubt that any state employee would steam open postal mail without a warrant authorising them to so do and that would have required police involvement

    That’s not analogous to what happened here though. They had permission to access the Ministers’ records. Vance’s records were not “steamed open” they were accidentally gathered up and stuffed in the envelope with the rest.

    The issue here isn’t intent, it’s ability and ease. A helpful IT guy can return all the data he holds with only a few extra keystrokes.

    What needs to be addressed is the culture around this data. Not just in Parliamentary Services but EVERYWHERE. It must be seen to be just as private as the contents of a person’s email. When people get that they aren’t going to over reach just the be helpful.

    Comment by Dylan Reeve (@DylanReeve) — August 1, 2013 @ 11:05 am

  19. The difference being that interference with HM Mail System is a criminal offence and would be treated fairly seriously.

    There is no equivalent HM Computer System. Every employer I’ve worked for in the last 20 years has run the entirely legal and reasonable policy that if you use company computers, software and network connectivity to send messages, those messages are not your personal, private correspondence but company property. No reason the same shouldn’t apply to phone calls.

    NB: the above doesn’t let anyone involved in this clusterfuck off the hook, since none of them is Vance’s employer.

    Comment by Psycho Milt — August 1, 2013 @ 11:30 am

  20. If you believe that is even remotely possible then either you have never worked in a large email environment or you are being dis-ingenious
    There is no way that Vance’s records could have been picked up accidentally. If they wanted to access Dunne’s records (and he is adamant that he only gave permission for his landline connection) they would have to go to phone logs and export the relevant record. As they were never asked for Vances records how on earth could they have been accidentally gathered up and sent to Henry. Why would they have even been looking at Vances telephone logs.

    >>That’s not analogous to what happened here though. They had permission to access the Ministers’ records. Vance’s records were not “steamed open” >>they were accidentally gathered up and stuffed in the envelope with the rest.

    Comment by Ron — August 1, 2013 @ 11:35 am

  21. Insider: Just because it’s in the memory of your phone is visible to you doesn’t necessarily mean it is captured and held in the phone billing / management system and so visible to an investigator.

    Obviously, it will depend on the configuration of the particular system. However, in my case (which seems to be common to many places), none of this information is stored on the physical phone in my office. It is stored on a server somewhere and my phone accesses it. If I plug a different physical phone into the same phone jack, then the same information is still visible.

    Anybody with access to the server that this information resides on, could access this information too (subject to whatever password control, etc, exists).

    Comment by RJL — August 1, 2013 @ 11:36 am

  22. While they don’t receive caller ID information from blocked numbers…

    Dylan – PABXs do receive a bunch of information which is likely to be expressed in the URI though.

    Given that most telephony (including core network) is IP based these days, the dial string inputted by a human is generally pretty straightforward to cross reference / determine, irrespective of Caller ID type products – assuming those seeking the information have the right degree of access to the routing systems of course.

    Comment by Gregor W — August 1, 2013 @ 11:37 am

  23. Vance’s records were not “steamed open” they were accidentally gathered up and stuffed in the envelope with the rest.

    Accidentally is just the current story. Last week the Henry inquiry said that they were requested but rebuked, but this week this week they say they were not requested. I think a bit of skepticism about their current answer is justifed.

    Comment by Matthew Holloway — August 1, 2013 @ 11:42 am

  24. Graeme Edgeler: Every press gallery phone I have ever been called from is number blocked, and comes up as unknown caller on my caller ID.

    A call between a press gallery phone to an MP office phone is presumably an internal call within the Parliamentary Services telephone network, so would be unlikely to be blocked.

    Calls outside the network might have the ID blocked in some sense, but as you say is probably still accessible to somebody with the right level of network access. The ParIiamentary IT geeks, for example.

    Comment by RJL — August 1, 2013 @ 11:52 am

  25. A call entering Parliament’s PABX from a landline on Chorus’ network (Vance’s home number) or a Telecom/2Degrees/Vodafone mobile with Caller ID blocked is not going to carry Caller ID information. A call from one of Vance’s personal lines to a Ministerial line is going to show up with no calling station ID in the call records.

    Comment by Dylan Reeve (@DylanReeve) — August 1, 2013 @ 11:54 am

  26. Seems that the government of the day has forgotten that NZ is a democracy. Seems to be heading for a key autoceracy!

    Comment by amthom — August 1, 2013 @ 12:23 pm

  27. I’m guessing usage of the Parliamentary Services-provided press gallery phones has just tanked… Good outcome for the mobile companies.

    Comment by garethw — August 1, 2013 @ 12:42 pm

  28. “….A call entering Parliament’s PABX from a landline on Chorus’ network (Vance’s home number) or a Telecom/2Degrees/Vodafone mobile with Caller ID blocked is not going to carry Caller ID information…”

    This depends on what you mean by not carrying CLID information. The hybridisation of the traditional phonenetworks with IP in our current transitional networks makes that a bold statement indeed. The central exchange is always going to retain CLI information in it’s native CDR format (they gotta know who to bill), and I’ve heard of the central carrier allowing CLID all the way to the customer CPE then getting the vendor to suppress CLID there in order overcome signalling issues. And who knows what engineers configure to go out of the media gateway controller, that can be the wild west. Given the changes in the Telecommunications act that give the GCSB a direct link into every switching room in the land, relying on the artifice of CLID suppression to protect your privacy is a very flimsy fig leaf indeed. Personally, the only way to be sure is to nuke the server from orbit. Or get both parties to use a voice over the internet app that is fully encrypted.

    Comment by Sanctuary — August 1, 2013 @ 12:43 pm

  29. Thanks Sanc. I was going to say something similar.

    CLID is a service to suppress a single aspect – the number string – of the Uniform Resource Identifier, and even then, only from a user perspective.
    The information is all still there at the machine layer. It has to be otherwise the network would grind to a halt.

    I

    Comment by Gregor W — August 1, 2013 @ 1:55 pm

  30. The Prime Minister isn’t the boss of other Ministers. (Primus inter pares, after all.) He certainly isn’t their employer! Their employer is the Crown. It’s pretty dubious to think that the Prime Minister, acting on his own, has a right to see the correspondence of Ministers without their consent.

    Comment by Keir — August 1, 2013 @ 2:33 pm

  31. Uniform Resource Identifier???? How I wish for those simpler days of yore, None of this Uniform Resource Identifier rubbish back then, when engineers were all gruff fellows who had suffered 25% hearing loss as a post office cadet in a step exchange and when Unicorns were happy with ISUP IAM.

    Comment by Sanctuary — August 1, 2013 @ 4:35 pm

  32. well some good has come of this – I now get to deal with the mental image of John Armstrong as a ‘political philosopher’.

    Comment by Lee C — August 18, 2013 @ 9:53 am


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