Ferguson confirms 'mass surveillance', Key reiterates GCSB acting lawfully

Former GCSB director says gathering communications from is like "whitebaiting" with most of the catch rejected.

The former director of the GCSB has confirmed that New Zealand intelligence agencies “collect all” digital information emanating from the South Pacific.

As part of the Five Eyes partnership – along with the Australia, Canada, the UK and the US  – New Zealand’s signals intelligence agency, the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB), was shown last week to be gathering communications from the island nations.

Sir Bruce Ferguson, who served as director of the GCSB from 2006 to 2011, told media that the bureau moved in 2009 to what is called “full take collection.”

“There’s an analogy with whitebaiting. You put a net in the water, you catch whatever comes into the net and get rid of the things you don’t want – which is probably almost all of it. Then we itemise it down.

“We might find a drug smuggler or money launderer in among all of that. That’s the target, the rest of it is all discarded,” he says.

Sir Bruce says that this process qualifies as “mass surveillance” and was the reason the GCSB law was changed.

Collecting New Zealand communications?
The documents, stolen by National Security Agency technician Edward Snowden, are part of an internal file between the Five Eyes partners outlining the current capabilities of the GCSB.

They also detail which South Pacific nations and which techniques are employed to monitor. The documents have been compiled by New Zealanbd and US journalists over the past week.

A crucial aspect missing from the documents is whether New Zealanders’ communications are being caught in the GCSB’s net inadvertently. The GCSB is legally prevented from spying on New Zealand citizens.

“New Zealanders will not be targeted if there’s no reason to target [them]. That is absolutely the law, and was in force right through my time. No New Zealander was targeted illegally. I am 100% confident that the GCSB is following the law,” Mr Ferguson says.

Prime Minister John Key also assured the public over the weekend that the intelligence agencies, under his personal authority, are following the law.

“The law is very clear when it comes to the GCSB. It has the capacity to collect information against a New Zealander but only under limited conditions. The legal advice that I’ve had from the GCSB is that those conditions are met.

“We have a variety of techniques available to collect information but they have to comply with the law,” Mr Key says.

However, he refused to comment whether the GCSB was conducting “mass surveillance.” He told the media that “it isn’t that simple” to say that the GCSB conducts mass surveillance on New Zealanders.

“It’s important to understand the motivations of [Nicky] Hager and [Edward] Snowden. They’re opposed to intelligence agencies, they’re anti-American. It wouldn’t matter what I say, you’ll never satisfy them and you’ll always have some random spin that, in my view, doesn’t reflect the fact that this country through successive governments have been well-served by intelligence agencies.” Mr Key says.

What the documents show
Mr Key has stated he would resign if the mass surveillance of New Zealanders were found to be occurring. None of the documents so far released suggests New Zealand citizens are being spied on in large numbers.

Neither do the documents say that the GCSB monitors the communications emerging from Niue, Tokelau or the Cook Islands. People born on those islands before January 1, 2006 are considered New Zealand citizens.

The documents show which nations in the South Pacific are targetd by the GCSB, what its "area of responsibility" is for monitoring the region and the internal communications between the various Five Eyes agencies on the progress, or lack of, with the many collection programmes.

They do not explain how the information is gathered by the signals intelligence agency.

The NBR outlined the reasons behind the Five Eyes movement towards “full take collection” in September 2014

nsmith@nbr.co.nz

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