Spy agency chiefs to face MPs in public

Last updated 05:00 03/12/2013

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New Zealand's top spooks face a barrage of questions from MPs today as Parliament's intelligence and security committee is held in public for the first time.

It comes after fresh revelations that Australia's spy agency offered to share raw metadata on its own citizens with Five Eyes partners, which include New Zealand and the United States. Leaked notes from a 2008 meeting show the surveillance partners discussed whether they could pool material, including legal, religious or medical information.

Other leaks from fugitive whistleblower Edward Snowden have raised concerns about the Government Communications Security Bureau's participation in mass surveillance programmes conducted by the US and other Five Eyes partners.

Although this afternoon's hearings are set down to discuss the financial performance of the security agencies, MPs are unlikely to resist quizzing bureau director Ian Fletcher and outgoing Security Intelligence Service boss Warren Tucker about the global spying scandal.

The fresh revelations came from Britain's The Guardian newspaper. It's unclear what was decided after the 2008 meeting. Prime Minister John Key telephoned Mr Fletcher on reading the article, seeking confirmation that the GCSB did not collect wholesale metadata on Kiwis.

"The answer was we didn't. And because we didn't we couldn't have shared it."

Mr Key pointed out the meeting took place when Labour was in government.

Asked if the US National Security Agency collected metadata from New Zealanders, Mr Key said: "I'm not going to go into every single thing that they do . . . They don't go and look for wholesale metadata on New Zealanders so they can share it with us because that would be illegal under New Zealand law."

He did not know if the NSA collected data on Kiwis for its own purposes. He also said it would surprise him if information from more than 80 Kiwis was passed on to other partners. However, he refused to rule out whether the bureau was conducting mass surveillance on other Pacific countries.

The Government is bracing itself for Snowden-generated documents implicating New Zealand in mass spying programmes.

There is speculation that former NSW contractor Snowden has passed information to internet mogul Kim Dotcom, who could use it as leverage in his extradition case and to politically embarrass National in an election year.

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- © Fairfax NZ News


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