Expert says Kiwis under constant surveillance

06:27, Jun 11 2013
Hank Wolfe
ANTI PRISM: Hank Wolfe believes individual freedom is being compromised by international intelligence agencies.

An Otago University-based security expert believes Kiwis are under constant surveillance and the Government should own up to its part in the operation.

University of Otago information science Associate Professor Hank Wolfe made the comments today after ex-CIA whistle blower Edward Snowden revealed electronic data was being collected from around the globe by a massive US intelligence monitoring programme called Prism.

"The [National Security Agency] has built an infrastructure that allows it to intercept almost everything,” Snowden said.

“With this capability, the vast majority of human communications are automatically ingested without targeting. If I wanted to see your emails or your wife's phone, all I have to do is use intercepts. I can get your emails, passwords, phone records, credit cards.’’

Wolfe today urged the New Zealand Government to “fess up” to having New Zealanders spied on through Prism.

He said data was being gathered on millions of people worldwide and this operation was as illegal as the pervasive and constant surveillance of citizens by the Soviet Union and East German governments of the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s - back then severely criticised in the West for their methods.


Under what was unofficially known as the Five Eyes Alliance, New Zealand and other governments; including the United States, Australia, Canada, and Britain, dealt with internal spying by saying they didn’t do it, Wolfe said.

“But they have all the partners doing it for them and then they share all the information.

“They can honestly say, when asked if they do internal spying, ‘No’.

‘‘They have to be able to say ‘no’ with honesty and clarity. By having one of the partners do the job for them, they can avoid saying: ‘Yes, we’re doing it illegally’. That’s how it works. And they’re doing it for the US, and so on.”

Wolfe said it was unlikely Governments would own up to operating this way.

“They’re not going to want to admit to that. They will want to lie their way out of it.”

Prism, set up in 2007, was just one front end of the intelligence operation and it was collecting much more than mere metadata, Wolfe said.

In fact, the volume of data gathered became so enormous a storage facility capable of holding five zeta bytes of data was constructed at Bluffdale, Utah - the Bluffdale Data Centre.

Wolf said internet searches, browsing history, downloads, emails, SMS, mobile data, social media, credit card data, debit transactions, surveillance cameras, computer records, GPS, and medical information were being stored there.

“A terabyte of data is a million millions. Bluffdale will hold 5 billion of those.’’

Wolfe did not believe for a minute only Metadata was being collected and stored.

“When referring to your email, metadata is the envelope around it - when it was sent, where it was sent, who it was sent to and who it was sent by.

“That would be like a trap and trace - it doesn’t tell you much. It does tell you something, let’s not minimise it, but they have the ability to capture it all - I believe they are capturing it all.”

And Wolfe said the data would be stored indefinitely.

“They don’t throw it away. They capture and keep, and using very high powered and sophisticated computers analyse the content and relationships between things, which is a very important part of intelligence.”

Wolfe said the Bluffdale motto was: ‘If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear.’

“The important thing for everyone to understand is that’s a tool of intimidation.

“The way this looks is, everybody’s guilty, so we can look at everybody.”

However, under conventions like the Universal Declaration of Human Rights promulgated at the United Nations on December 10, 1948, to which New Zealand and its alliance partners were signatories, Article 12 guaranteed everyone’s right to privacy.

In the past in the western world if there had been probable cause, it would be taken to court, evidence presented and left to a judge to decide if a warrant for surveillance would be issued.

“This is not happening. That’s the protection that we’ve had in the past – independent oversight. That’s the protection that’s been taken from us.’’

Wolfe said behaviour changed drastically when people knew they were under constant surveillance.

“It alters our individual behaviour because we know we’re being watched. It alters what we say because we’re afraid if we say the wrong thing something might happen to us.

‘‘It alters who we associate with because that person might be bad and so if I associate with him, even though I grew up with him and he’s a good friend, it might bring bad things to me.”

Fairfax Media