NSA spying can't be ruled out: PM

06:29, Sep 17 2014
John Key
NOTHING TO SEE HERE: Prime Minister John Key insists it would be "very, very challenging" for the GCSB to conduct mass spying.

Prime Minister John Key cannot rule out that the United States National Security Agency is undertaking mass surveillance of New Zealanders' data but has rejected claims New Zealand spies would have access to such information.

"What I can say is the GCSB [Government Communications Security Bureau] does not have access to any information through XKeyscore or any other database, unless they basically comply with the New Zealand law, and the New Zealand law forbids that unless there is a warrant to do so," he said.

Asked whether that was an admission GCSB spies on occasion used the controversial XKeyscore programme, Key declined to elaborate.

Edward Snowden Moment of Truth
BEAMED IN: Edward Snowden appears on screen at the Internet Mana's "Moment of Truth" public meeting in Auckland.

"I don't talk about whatever programmes they have," he said.

* Beehive Live

* NZ spied on allies: Greenwald


Opinion: We deserve answers on spying

* Opinion: Spy scandal impact on election far from certain

* US spy bases in NZ: Snowden

"You can talk about whatever ones they might use, and there're lots of them out there."

With the general election just three days away, Key is under pressure to explain documents released by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden pointing to wholesale spying of New Zealand citizens using XKeyscore.

At an event hosted by the Internet Party on Monday, Snowden and US journalist Glenn Greenwald claimed that NSA agents had sites of operation in New Zealand.

Greenwald's reporting has led to the Government admitting this week that the GCSB was working on a mass surveillance programme that Key canned because it was deemed too intrusive.

Key said today that he was unaware of any NSA site in New Zealand. If there were, they were operating without his knowledge and illegally.

"I don't run the NSA any more than I run any other foreign intelligence agency or any other country," he said.
Key welcomed today's statement from the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security, Cheryl Gwyn, who has backed his version of the story.

Gwyn said she reviewed whether the GCSB complied with restrictions on intercepting New Zealanders' communications as part of her role.

While she could only comment on specific GCSB activities through her annual and inquiry reports, Gwyn said she had not identified any indiscriminate interception of New Zealanders' data in her work to date.

The review of GCSB activities was ongoing, and she would continue to monitor the bureau to ensure communications were intercepted only for authorised purposes, she said.

Key said it was "pleasing to have someone that's completely independent of the political process coming out very clearly and very strongly, saying there is no evidence to support there has been mass surveillance by the GCSB on New Zealanders".

"That is absolutely the correct position," he said.

"I can say it. I hope New Zealanders will accept my word on it because we've got the inspector-general saying it, you've got the former head of the GCSB and the current head of the GCSB saying it."

Key said he had provided strong evidence of what the GCSB had and had not carried out, but the other side had failed to do that.

He defended Gwyn against claims by some critics that she was politicising her role, saying she was "completely neutral".

She is conducting an investigation into the SIS over allegations made in Nicky Hager's book, Dirty Politics, that classified information was declassified and handed to a blogger for political gain.

"She went out there and did that in the middle of an election campaign," Key said.

"She is in a position to see under the covers, what's really taking place, and give an objective view to New Zealanders."

But she could not see what activities, if any, the NSA might be carrying out in New Zealand.

"We've always said, in the end, there are other agencies around the world either legally as a result of their own laws or illegally will be out there potentially collecting information on New Zealanders," Key said.

"But the big control check from New Zealand's point of view is we absolutely do not circumnavigate the law and use our departments to do that.

"The United States of America has some interesting issues it's having to deal with, and tangentially there's always a risk that a New Zealander is involved in that, whether as a foreign fighter or whatever it might be.

"But New Zealand is not the primary interest of the United States."