According to Edward Snowden, New Zealand is under mass surveillance as the NSA whistleblower could easily access the details of several New Zealanders, including email, social media accounts, Internet searches, and text messages when he worked with the agency.
Although the government declared publicly that they weren’t spying, the GCSB (Government Communications Security Bureau), which is the country’s spy agency, implemented a mass surveillance system in 2012 and 2013.
Snowden provided documents revealing the government’s secret plan to exploit an Internet surveillance law that was enacted when the illegal domestic spying case became public. The spying operation was in conflict with the assurance given by Prime Minister John Key who said that the law was made just to fix the ambiguous legal framework by allowing the agency to freely conduct its operations.
Snowden blamed the Prime Minister for misleading the public.
“The Prime Minister’s claim to the public, that ‘there is no and there never has been any mass surveillance’, is false. The GCSB, whose operations he is responsible for, is directly involved in the untargeted, bulk interception and algorithmic analysis of private communications sent via Internet, satellite, radio, and phone networks.”
Snowden made these revelations at a meeting held at Auckland Town Hall where he was present using a video link from Russia. He said that he could see the communication records from people all over the world.
Southern Cross Cables, the communication company that runs throughout the country, denied the allegations that their cables are monitored. However, Snowden said that they wouldn’t even know if they’re monitored. He also said that the government uses XKEYSCORE software to collect the personal information of all New Zealand citizens, and Key is aware of it.
“The GCSB provides mass surveillance data into XKEYSCORE. They also provide access to the communications of millions of New Zealanders to the NSA at facilities such as the GCSB facility in Waihopai, and the Prime Minister is personally aware of this fact.”
Wikileaks founder Julian Assange was also present at the meeting, saying that New Zealanders hadn’t agreed to this extreme project that scrutinized the communications of all citizens.
American journalist Glenn Greenwald added that he was surprised by the immature attacks thrown at him by Key by calling Greenwald a “loser”.
Secret documents leaked by Snowden show that the GCSB implemented the Phase I of their surveillance program that was code named “Speargun”. This project involved the installation of secret cable access equipment, which might have been done to spy on the data travelling through Southern Cross cables.
When Phase I was successfully completed, Speargun moved to Phase II, which involved the use of metadata probes to be inserted in those cables. According to Snowden’s documents, the first probe was scheduled to be inserted in mid 2013. NSA commonly uses such probes to tap into communication cables to spy on people.
After this report, Key did admit that the GCSB planned a mass surveillance program in the country, but he added that he rejected the program before it was implemented.
However, the documents show that Speargun wasn’t just an idea that was stopped before it began.
One of the secret NSA documents mentioned “Project Speargun underway” in 2012. Speargun could not be completed due to one obstacle – they needed a new law that would allow them to spy on their citizens. The NSA documents state that the new GCSB Act was expected in July 2013.
That Act came up after the 2012 revelation ofby GCSB as they spied on the communication channel of Kim Dotcom, the founder of Megaupload. The surveillance led to a police raid into his home, following his prosecution in the US for copyright violation.
Consequent government investigations revealed that the GCSB didn’t just spy on Dotcom, but also on several other citizens. This led to the resignation of the deputy director of GCSB. The government refused to act against those who carried the spying operations, and instead proposed a new law to allow electronic surveillance. That was an extremely controversial proposal and led to public protests.
New Zealand national elections will take place on September 20. This revelation might go against Key who is already involved in a scandal after a journalist Nicky Hager published the book, ‘Dirty Politics.’
With the disclosure of illegal spying by GCSB, the Kim Dotcom’s anti-surveillance Internet Party was created, which had an alliance with Mana Party, and it might win many seats in the Parliament.
The revelation that the GCSB has been plotting spying operations raises many questions about the credibility of the present government. Since it took place at a high level of authority, it might have an impact on the coming elections.