17 Sep 2014

Key makes surveillance concessions

8:31 pm on 17 September 2014

Prime Minister John Key has conceded New Zealanders may be subject to mass surveillance but says what is important is that it is not done by the GCSB.

John Key in Auckland on Wednesday.

John Key in Auckland today. Photo: RNZ / Jane Patterson

Mr Key said he could not control what information New Zealand's Five Eyes spy network partners, including the NSA harvest.

He said he can rule out the GCSB conducting mass surveillance of New Zealanders - but he could not do that for foreign spy agencies.

More on the story

"So like any country, the NSA is bound by the laws of the United States of America, just like in the UK they'll be bound by their laws and every country has their own laws," Mr Key said.

"I'm not responsible for that , I can't control that and I don't influence that."

But Mr Key said he does not think the NSA is spying on New Zealand because we are friends.

"Well I don't believe they are, there is a long-standing agreement that we don't spy on each other, and I'd be absolutely stunned if they were."

Edward Snowden via an internet link.

Edward Snowden via an internet link. Photo: RNZ / Kim Baker Wilson

Yet, United States President Barack Obama said there was no country with which it has a no-spy agreement.

And despite having dismissed the NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden as a foreigner making unsubstantiated claims around the mass surveillance of New Zealanders, Mr Key said he was right.

"I'm sure it's absolutely true that when Edward Snowden worked for the NSA he had the capacity to see some information about New Zealanders.

"But that's because they have different rules to ours around some information that they might gather.

"But in the end it doesn't matter what an NSA person can see, it matters about what New Zealand does and New Zealand doesn't circumvent the law."

Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei said it was very important that New Zealanders' information was protected.

Metiria Turei.

Metiria Turei. Photo: RNZ / Kim Baker Wilson

"I'm sure that New Zealand could protect its citizens and its information much better, actually the agencies and the Prime Minister have a responsibility to do so."

American journalist Glenn Greenwald said even if it was the NSA carrying out the spying the New Zealand Government was still intimately involved through Five Eyes.

"That would still be the [New Zealand] Government working on a system of mass surveillance.

"Not only are they collaborators on the collection of that data, they then have access to that data through that X-Keyscore system," Mr Greenwald said.

Asked if New Zealand or any of the Five Eyes partners had access to the Southern Cross cable - through which New Zealand's electronic communications travel - Mr Key said the following.

"Ahhhh, phew....I don't believe so, in terms of wholesale surveillance, I don't believe so."

Labour leader David Cunliffe said Five Eyes was never meant to be spying on New Zealanders.

He said there were still grey areas that the spy watchdog may not have covered so far in her review of whether there is unauthorised interception of New Zealanders' communications.

David Cunliffe speaks to reporters.

David Cunliffe speaks to reporters. Photo: RNZ / Kim Baker Wilson

"The point of Five Eyes is that it's to conduct foreign intelligence on non-Five Eyes partners not a back-door way of spying on your own citizens," he said.