GCSB will be investigated over claims New Zealanders spied on in Pacific video

RORY O'SULLIVAN/stuff.co.nz

Prime Minister John Key has welcomed news of an inquiry into allegations of spying from the GCSB.

New Zealand's spying watchdog will head an inquiry into allegations the Government Security Communications Bureau (GCSB) spied on New Zealanders working in the Pacific. 

The Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security, Cheryl Gwyn, has announced she will investigate complaints over the alleged interception of communications of New Zealanders working or travelling in the South Pacific by New Zealand's external spy agency. 

Gwyn said she received complaints after documents, released on March 5, showed New Zealand was spying on its Pacific neighbours, sweeping up all information from the region and passing it to an American spy agency.

CHERYL GWYN: The Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security.
KEVIN STENT/Fairfax NZ

CHERYL GWYN: The Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security.

United States fugitive Edward Snowden worked at the US National Security Agency (NSA) before turning whistleblower in June 2013, releasing documents to the mainstream media showing spy agencies were conducting mass surveillance.

Documents released with NZHerald.co.nz and US site The Intercept, referred to the Solomon Islands, Fiji, Kiribati, Tonga, Vanuatu, Nauru and Samoa as targets of the GCSB.

Later documents revealed the GCSB was also involved in spying on candidates vying for the top job at the World Trade Centre - a job Trade Minister Tim Groser was also in competition for. 

RUSSEL NORMAN: "Genuine concerns" laws were broken.
ROSS GIBLIN/Fairfax NZ

RUSSEL NORMAN: "Genuine concerns" laws were broken.

READ MORE: 

Snowden documents: NZ spied on Pacific Island neighbours

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Gwyn said the complaints she received, and the public allegations, "raised wider questions regarding the collection, retention and sharing of communications data". 

"I will be addressing the specific complaints that I have received, in accordance with the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security Act. But there is also a clear need to provide as much factual information to the complainants, and to the wider public, as is possible.

"For that reason, I have decided not only to investigate the complaints but also to bring forward and expand the relevant parts of my ongoing programme of review and audit of GCSB procedures and compliance systems," she said.

"That review programme operates at a systemic level and doesn't, of course, scrutinise or second-guess every day-to-day aspect of the GCSB's operations: what it does allow for, as in this instance, is a focussed review of a particular area of GCSB or New Zealand Security Intelligence Service practice."

Reacting to the news from Dargaville, Prime Minister John Key said he welcomed the inquiry.

"We're not fearful in the slightest. That's the reason we beefed up the inspector-general and, in fact, we've been talking to her," Key said.

"The inspector-general has the legal authority and the resources to look underneath the blankets and what some people who don't like intelligence agencies do is try and present a one-sided view through  the media and it becomes very difficult for us to fully answer that [because of the covert nature of the GCSB].  

"She is uniquely placed to do that, so it's a good thing it's happening. We've got absolutely no concerns about it."

The agency was "totally confident" it had acted within the law.

Green Party co-leader Russel Norman laid a complaint the day after the documents were released. 

"How can it be illegal to undertake mass surveillance spying of New Zealanders when they are in New Zealand, but as soon as we hop on a plane to the Pacific we are fair game?" he said.

In his letter to Gwyn, Norman said the documents showed metadata and communications of New Zealand citizens and permanent residents "living, holidaying in and interacting with the region were obtained by the GCSB". 

"As it is illegal for the GCSB to spy on New Zealand citizens... we have genuine concern that laws were broken as a result of the Government's 'full-take collection' policy."

On Thursday, Norman said he welcomed the inquiry.

"These are very serious allegations and they do need to be looked at by an independent body.

"There have been over 1.6 million visits by New Zealanders to the Pacific since 2009; all of those people deserve to know whether they were spied on."

While Gwyn said she wasn't able to investigate Norman's claim directly - because there was no "personal adverse effect" - she confirmed her investigation would "broadly encompass" his concerns. 

Investigative journalist Nicky Hager, who worked on the stories with The Intercept's Ryan Gallagher, has told media he welcomed the inquiry.

He said the Government's refusal to engage on issues around spying was not a credible position. 

Gwyn said she had notified acting director of the GCSB Una Jagose of the inquiry and of her intention to provide "as much information to the public on my findings as I can, withholding only that information that cannot be disclosed without endangering national security".

Gwyn said Jagose had assured her the GCSB would fully cooperate. 

 - Stuff

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