John Key restates promise to resign if mass surveillance data was collected

The Guardian
10 March 2015

New Zealand prime minister continues to deny intelligence services have conducted data-gathering

Media reports revealed New Zealand was spying on its neighbours in the Pacific region.

The New Zealand prime minister, John Key, said he stands by his promise to resign if his country’s intelligence services have conducted mass surveillance on citizens, but has continued to deny it has occurred after more disclosures about intelligence-gathering.

Key was questioned in the New Zealand parliament on Tuesday by the Greens co-leader, Dr Russel Norman, after a series of revelations by the New Zealand Herald and the Intercept based on disclosures from Edward Snowden.

The reports have revealed that New Zealand was spying on its neighbours in the Pacific region, and had targeted island nations including Nauru, Tuvalu, Kiribati, Samoa, Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands.

The documents describe how a Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) base at Waihopai was engaged in “full-take collection” of data from countries in the Asia-Pacific, and was sharing it with the US National Security Agency through the XKeyscore program.

Sir Bruce Ferguson, the former head of the of the GCSB, said after the disclosures: “The whole method of surveillance these days is sort of a mass collection, but to actually individualise that is mission impossible.”

When asked by Norman whether he would stand by his promise to resign if the GCSB had conducted mass surveillance, Key said: “Yes, and there is no mass surveillance of New Zealanders by the GCSB. To me mass surveillance would involve surveillance of an entire population or a substantial part of that population.”

He said he would not comment on operational details of GCSB operations, but stressed that “mass surveillance is not occurring against New Zealanders, it never has. It doesn’t matter how many times the member says it, it’s simply not true.

“One of the problems when the member wants to rely on stolen information, they get a very warped sense of reality. The GCSB has to establish a warrant; a warrant has to have a particular reason.”

Key had earlier said his country’s citizens did not have the right to know about mass surveillance and has refused to say whether sweeping surveillance in the Pacific is capturing his citizens’ personal data.

In a heated exchange on Radio New Zealand with presenter Guyon Espiner on Monday, the prime minister was questioned about Ferguson’s comments and the disclosures made in the documents from Snowden.

When asked whether he thought New Zealanders had the right to know whether their personal data was being gathered by intelligence agencies, Key said: “I think the answer to that is no, in so much that – I’d have to go and check the law – but I’m pretty sure they are not told that.”

He continued: “There’s a general rule the answer to that’s been no. I don’t think people go and get informed if that’s the case.”

Key was also questioned about the comments from Ferguson, and asked whether they were accurate.

He said: “I’m not going to go and critique the guy, and I’m not going to give a view on whether he is right or wrong. What I am going to say is what we’ve always said, which is the law is very clear when it comes to GCSB. So they have the capacity to collect information against a New Zealander but only under very, very limited conditions.

“And the question is are those conditions met, and the legal advice I’ve had from GCSB and the assurances I’ve had are those conditions are met.”

Espiner responded: “The question is very simple, prime minister. We have the head of the agency at the time saying there was mass collection of personal data. Now I’m just asking you is he right or is he wrong?”

Key said: “Well I don’t even know what he means by that, so there’s no point in asking me that question, because I can’t tell you what Bruce Ferguson said and what he means by that. All I can tell you is what I know. And what I know is that there are a variety of reasons why we collect information … The law is very clear about what it allows us to do when it comes to New Zealanders.”

When Espiner asked whether he was denying that New Zealanders’ personal data were being collected, Key said: “I’m not going to agree with that; I’m just not agreeing or disagreeing. I don’t even have a clue what you mean by that term.”

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