NZ considers letting police access encrypted messages

Whatsapp cellphone mobile phone (Getty)
The move would be made to help counter terrorism. Photo credit: Getty / file

Prime Minister Bill English has let on that New Zealand spies are involved in talks about allowing police easier access to encrypted messaging services like WhatsApp to intercept terrorist communications.

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has called for large companies like Facebook and Apple that own messaging services to open up access to security agencies to help them combat the spread of extremism.

Addressing media after his bilateral talk with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Tuesday, Mr English let slip New Zealand is involved in looking into whether police should be given easier access to messaging services.

"We haven't been part of, well, at official levels I'm sure they've been part of those discussions, because it's been a concern for intelligence services for some time," he said.

New Zealand is part of the spy alliance Five Eyes with Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States.

But despite UK Prime Minister Theresa May and Mr Turnbull calling for better regulation of online communication, Mr English isn't rushing to agree.

"There's no proposal in front of us to address that directly, although Theresa May has raised the issue of more regulation of the internet and relevant technology," he said.

He says there would need to be good evidence of the benefits before any action was taken.

"These are technologies that are in everyday use by everybody."

Mr Tillerson also alluded to preventing the flow of extremist ideology via social media.

"We have to win this fight on the battlefield, but defeating them on the battlefield will not end this, we have to win this on the ideological sense as well, and that means getting into the social media space, getting into the mosque, getting into the conversation," he said.

Ms May renewed her calls for regulation of the internet during her speech in the wake of the London attacks.

She suggested "big companies that provide internet based services" hosted "safe spaces" for terrorists and extremists, before raising the possibility of a new "international agreement" to "regulate cyberspace".

Newshub understands Bill English uses the messaging app WhatsApp to contact his close family.

However, he doesn't have a "burner" phone - he just uses the one phone.