GCSB had no wire-tap warrant in unlawful spying: Key

"I was quite shocked," prime minister tells press conference.

BUSINESSDESK: The government intelligence agency that has admitted unlawfully spying was operating without a warrant when it undertook the operations relating to the Kim Dotcom case, virtually confirming the target was a foreign national rather than a New Zealander.

At his post-Cabinet press conference yesterday afternoon, Prime Minister John Key would reveal very few details beyond his statement earlier today that he had ordered an inquiry into the unlawful interceptions by the Government Communications Security Bureau.

However, he confirmed the GCSB, a parallel organisation to the Security Intelligence Service, only requires a warrant for interceptions when it involves a New Zealand resident.

Kim Dotcom, the German-born internet entrepreneur at the centre of an extradition bid by US law enforcement authorities, was declined New Zealand citizenship.

Three other foreign nationals are also among those targeted in the US-led operation which saw Mr Dotcom's north Auckland mansion raided on January 20.

Mr Key said he was made aware of the unlawful spying on September 17 and immediately ordered an inquiry into what he believed was an "error or mistake".

"I was quite shocked," he said.

The Crown Law Office and police have already weathered criticism they were too eager to help the US Federal Bureau of Investigations in its attempt to pin internet piracy charges on Mr Dotcom, founder of the Megaupload internet file sharing site.

Mr Key indicated the GCSB interceptions related to more than one person, referring to "the individuals involved", but would not comment on whether communications intercepted were emails, phone calls or both.

The GCSB is a signals intelligence service, combing telecommunications traffic for evidence of issues that could affect national security.

Mr Key repeatedly asserted he had not known of the Dotcom investigation before the raid in January, or of the GCSB's involvement in surveillance relating to the Dotcom case before September 17, when he was informed by its director, Ian Fletcher.

Asked whether he took responsibility for the error, Key said "no".

"The first I heard of it was last Monday. I indicated my displeasure and that a full inquiry would be necessary."

No GCSB staff had been stood down while the inquiry took place, he said.

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