16 Sep 2014

Key silent on spy programme

9:46 pm on 16 September 2014

Prime Minister John Key is refusing to talk about a spy programme that the National Security Agency analyst turned whistleblower, Edward Snowden, says is subjecting New Zealanders to mass surveillance.

John Key campaigning in Dunedin today.

John Key campaigning in Dunedin today. Photo: RNZ / Ian Telfer

But Mr Key continues to insist there is no mass surveillance of New Zealanders.

Mr Snowden told Kim Dotcom's Moment of Truth event in Auckland last night that the spy programme XKeyscore is harvesting New Zealanders metadata.

Mr Key has talked about two other programmes - SpearGun and Cortex - but said he could not talk about XKeyscore.

He said he was not prepared to discuss whether XKeyscore is used but would assure New Zealanders they are not subject to mass illegal surveillance.

"We've never undertaken mass surveillance, we have got a programme called Cortex running over specific entities providing cyber protection," he said.

At last night's meeting in Auckland's Town Hall, organised by Internet Party founder Kim Dotcom, US whistleblower Edward Snowden and journalist Glenn Greenwald presented their evidence that the GCSB was involved in the mass surveillance of New Zealand citizens.

Speaking by a video link from Russia, Edward Snowden told the audience the NSA was already operating in this country and has a facility in Auckland and one further north. Mr Snowden said access was through a mass surveillance tool the NSA shared with the GCSB called XKeyscore.

The Prime Minister said this afternoon he had checked the claim of NSA bases operating in New Zealand, and to his knowledge that was not true, though he said NSA staff may be seconded to local bases.

"In the end I can just give you the best advice I have which is there is none, I do not believe there is one, the former director of the GCSB said there isn't any, the current director of the GCSB said there isn't any."

Mr Key said he was not prepared to discuss whether XKeyscore is used but would assure New Zealanders they are not subject to mass illegal surveillance.

"We've never undertaken mass surveillance, we have got a programme called Cortex running over specific entities providing cyber protection," he said.

Speaking to Nine to Noon Sir Bruce Ferguson, GCSB director from 2006 to 2011, would not confirm nor deny whether the XKeyscore programme specifically was used or whether GCSB members were trained in it.

"As far as programmes in general are concerned, certainly the GCSB gets trained in them; otherwise how can you operate them?"

"If you're trained, are you going to use them? Yes, potentially, and you'd use them under a warrant.

"If a legal warrant was issued to access a New Zealander and his or her correspondence under that warrant the person would use the training to do so."

Sir Bruce Ferguson said data could only be accessed if there was a warrant, and if any GCSB staff were working on a programme they knew was accessing New Zealanders it would be illegal and this did not happen during his four years at the organisation.

Mr Key said no evidence was put up at last night's meeting to support claims of mass surveillance.

"What we're seeing in this whole debate is a bunch of foreigners coming into town three or four days before an election at a time when New Zealanders want to have a legitimate debate about the future of our country and what they're doing is making completely unsubstantiated claims.

"What the Government's done is provide the evidence to New Zealanders ... which absolutely shoots down their arguments."

US journalist Glenn Greenwald used documents from the NSA - given to him by Mr Snowden - to unveil details of the surveillance programme "Speargun". NSA documents appeared to confirm the GCSB had proceeded with plans to put the programme in place.

Mr Key has released information to prove there was not any mass surveillance undertaken by the GCSB. Those documents referred to a project called "Cortex", which had been aimed at setting up a mass cyber protection mechanism, not mass surveillance. Mr Key said that project was abandoned.

A more limited version of the security programme was agreed to in July this year.

Claim Key misled public on law change

Labour leader David Cunliffe said New Zealanders do not have sufficient protection to ensure that they are not being spied on.

Last year legislation was passed giving the GCSB more wide-ranging powers.

Mr Cunliffe believes Prime Minister John Key misled the public about the full background to that law change, which he said was to update the law for potential future technology.

He is pledging to undertake a full review of the security services and said the public had a right to know their privacy was being protected.

"There are not sufficient protections against the surveillance of metadata, it is I think silent to the issue of third party surveillance and it does not provide an absolute assurance that any surveillance is subject to a warrant."

Mr Cunliffe said Labour invited the Prime Minister to write that into the law but he declined.

United Future leader Peter Dunne said John Key has questions to answer about the GCSB and legislation passed last year which gave it more powers.

Mr Dunne said Mr Key needed to respond to the points that were raised at last night's Auckland town hall meeting, to support his position that there is no mass surveillance.

Peter Dunne also wants answers about the GCSB legislation he voted for last year.

"If the legislation does by the back door permit mass surveillance then that is not what we thought we were passing and I think that needs to be clarified, if however it doesn't then that needs to be reasserted."

Sir Bruce Ferguson said he initiated moves to refine the cyber security of New Zealanders.

Cortex was an interception project designed to detect malicious software, (known as malware) and was approved in July.

Sir Bruce said only organisations that agreed to sign up to the system would be monitored, but agreed that also included individuals who communicated with the organisation.

"In my time I became very aware that New Zealand was being more and more subjected to potential and real threats in the cyber space. State actors and individuals were deliberately trying to access New Zealand's technological data, individual data etc. We had to actually somehow prevent that."

Sir Bruce said he would be staggered if the work had not continued.

Former US intelligence analyst, Auckland academic Paul Buchanan, said he believed the NSA could have operated out of the American consulate in Auckland.

"The consulate is a secure space, it has secure communications," he told Morning Report. "Previous Snowden revelations have shown that the Five Eyes partners used their embassy and consulates as tactical eavesdropping points."

A former adviser to America's National Security Agency says New Zealand's intelligence reaction to potential security threats is vastly out of proportion to the real threat.

Professor Caroline Ziemke is now the Director of the Centre for Defence and Security Studies at Massey University.

She said the NSA had gone too far in its mass collection of people's private data and warned New Zealand to be careful not to do the same.

Professor Ziemke said New Zealand has been affected by concerns that the US, UK and to a certain extent Australia have had about violent extremism.

"And these are problems that blessedly New Zealand doesn't have and so the intelligence reaction looks vastly out of proportion to the threat in the context of New Zealand."

She said she did not think Edward Snowden's claims about New Zealanders and mass surveillance by the Government Communications Security Bureau can be easily dismissed.

Laila Harre, Kim Dotcom and journalist Glenn Greenwald speak to reporters after the Moment of Truth event.

Laila Harre, Kim Dotcom and journalist Glenn Greenwald speak to reporters after the Moment of Truth event. Photo: RNZ / Kim Baker Wilson

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