Memo sheds light on spying

A secret intelligence memo shows that when members of the Five Eyes network discussed spying on their own citizens, it was the Canadians that who raised concerns about privacy.

The new report from The Guardian newspaper in London details how intelligence agencies from New Zealand, United States, Australia, Canada and Britain canvassed if they could pool medical, religious or legal information.

The Guardian quoted from notes taken during an April 2008 intelligence conference at Britain's GCHQ, called to discuss the bulk-collection of metadata. The document was leaked by US whistleblower Edward Snowden.

It shows the Australian surveillance agency, now known as the Australian Signals Directorate, offered to share with intelligence partners, information about its citizens that it collected in a technology dragnet.

"DSD can share bulk, unselected, unminimised metadata as long as there is no intent to target an Australian national," the notes read.

"Unintentional collection is not viewed as a significant issue."

The data was raw with no privacy protections in place, such as redactions.

But the notes show that Canadians at the meeting raised issues about privacy, saying material harvested in bulk could only be shared if privacy protection was in place, by removing information about its citizens.

The memo taker notes these concerns and adds "but re-evaluation of this stance is ongoing".

Questions about how much information New Zealand's Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) have shared with its Five Eyes partners have gone unanswered by the Government.

However, there is speculation that the agency has used mass surveillance by partners like the US National Security Agency to get around previous domestic laws that banned it from spying on New Zealanders.

Metadata is information about communications - such as the time or area where a call was placed, or email sent. The document refers to "bulk, unselected, unminimised metadata".

It is not clear what decisions were made following the meeting. However, the notes say the agencies agreed not to set "automatic limitations".

"Consideration was given as to whether any types of data were prohibited, for example medical, legal, religious or restricted business information, which may be regarded as an intrusion of privacy," the memo says.

"Given the nascent state of many of these data types then no, or limited, precedents have been set with respect to proportionality or propriety, or whether different legal considerations applies to the 'ownership' of this data compared with the communications data that we were more accustomed to handle.

"It was agreed that the conference should not seek to set any automatic limitations, but any such difficult cases would have to be considered by 'owning' agency on a case-by-case basis."

New Zealand's intelligence agencies, the GCSB and the Security Intelligence Service will tomorrow appear before a parliamentary committee, in public, for the first time.

Prime Minister John Key has repeatedly refused to detail what information GCSB shares with other Five Eyes countries, but has insisted it acts within the law.

Earlier this year, in the wake of revelations about illegal spying on internet mogul Kim Dotcom, it emerged the GCSB had illegally spied on more than 80 New Zealanders.

In response, the Government changed the law to allow the GCSB to spy on Kiwis on behalf of other New Zealand law enforcement agencies.

Fairfax Media