Key denies mass GCSB surveillance and collection, declines to discuss XKeyscore

Prime Minister John Key and Steven Joyce (@mcquillanatorz)

At a media stand-up in Dunedin earlier today, in response to Edward Snowden’s claims at last night’s “Moment of Truth” event, John Key emphatically stated that “New Zealanders are not subject to mass surveillance by GCSB and they never have been.”

Mr Key declined to comment when asked specifically about XKeyscore – a programme Mr Snowden said enabled him to search for keywords and phrases that would justify opening an intercepted message when he worked as a contactor for the NSA.

“I’m not going to go into individual programmes we have because there are very good reasons we don’t. We don’t go through the intelligence capability that we have,” Mr Key said.

Despite that, he did later insist “GCSB doesn’t have the physical capability” to carry out mass surveillance and he did mention Cortex, a “cyber protection” programme about which he released hurriedly declassified papers yesterday.

Mr Key also categorically stated there has been “no mass collection either. Not of New Zealanders,” although he conceded information about New Zealanders would appear on international databases “New Zealand intelligence agencies might be able to access.”

That information, however, “would be in that database for legitimate and legal reasons” – if a New Zealander was “in a foreign location fighting for rebels,” for example.

“We would gather information about that and we would absolutely share it with our partners for very good reason,” Mr Key said.

When asked about Mr Snowden’s contention there are not one but two NSA bases in New Zealand – one in Auckland and one further north – Mr Key said “the best advice I have, there is no NSA bases in New Zealand,” pointing out that belief is shared by “by the former director of GCSB under Helen Clark [Bruce Ferguson]and the current director [Ian Fletcher].”

Mr Key insisted “we abide by the law and the law forbids GCSB to carry out mass surveillance.”

The claims by Mr Snowden and co was just “rhetoric,” said Mr Key, who stated that although the “bunch of foreigners”  failed to provide anything to back up their allegations, the government had provided evidence that “absolutely shoots down their argument.”


RAW DATA: Transcript of John Key’s statements at today’s media stand-up

“What I can say is, absolutely without doubt, New Zealanders are not subject to mass surveillance by GCSB and they never have been. What I can say is, yes, there are databases that New Zealand intelligence agencies might be able to access but the information that would be in that database would be for legitimate and legal reasons. So there’d be a particular reason why a person’s in there – for instance, there could be a person of interest because they’re in a foreign location fighting for rebels, or they could be incidental to what’s going on. But there never has been any mass surveillance and New Zealand has not gathered mass information and provided it to international agencies."

“I’m not going to go into individual programmes we have because there are very good reasons we don’t. We don’t go through the intelligence capability that we have, but what we do do is we abide by the law and the law forbids GCSB to carry out mass surveillance, it never has, and as has been demonstrated over the last 24 hrs, the government’s position on this has been absolutely right. We’ve never undertaken mass surveillance, we have got a programme called Cortex running over specific entities providing cyber protection but there never has been and there’s never any evidence to support the view – and I might make the point last night, there wasn’t any evidence to support these claims, they’re just simply not right."

“The important question is, is there mass surveillance? There is no mass surveillance of New Zealanders. There never has been mass surveillance. I’m just not going to go into, no former Prime Minister has ever gone into the particular techniques we use. But the law is very clear – and I might make the point, that even a database we might want to access in an international environment still requires New Zealand agencies to follow the law. We can’t use an international agency to circumvent the law the GCSB is very clear: you have to have a warrant to access information about New Zealanders."

“Edward Snowden might be right about one point: if he looked in a database there’d be some New Zealand content in there, for very legitimate and legal reasons. But the point he’s making, was that there’s mass surveillance about New Zealanders and their information and that is fundamentally and factually incorrect and he didn’t provide any evidence to support that claim."

“There’s no mass collection either. Not of New Zealanders."

“The claim that was made is that there is mass collection of New Zealand data about New Zealanders and  put into an international database – that is factually incorrect. Now in an international database, for very good reasons, there will be some New Zealand content in there, because if a New Zealand person goes into an environment like Syria and is of particular interest to the New Zealand authorities, we would gather information about that and we would absolutely share it with our partners for very good reason. If incidentally somebody contacts somebody of interest, that may be in there, or there may be different rules in different countries that allow a certain amount of information to be gathered which would  of course around the cohort of nations around the world include some New Zealanders but there is no mass surveillance. Never has been. GCSB doesn’t have the physical capability to do that and that was the whole point and that was the whole point of the business case looking at the mass cyber protection, was to look if it was even technically to do it. It’s impossible to do something we don’t have the capability to do."

“So to the best advice I have, there is no NSA bases in New Zealand, that is supported by the former director of GCSB under Helen Clark’s watch and the current director of GCSB. None of them believe there is a NSA base in New Zealand. I have taken the course that you expect to, which is to check one more time with the director of GCSB and the advice he has given me is there are no NSA bases. And again last night you saw whoever it was, was it Julian Assange, making the claim with absolutely no supporting evidence. So what we are seeing in this whole debate is a bunch of foreigners coming into town three or four days before an election at a time when New Zealanders want to have a legitimate about the future of our country and what they’re making is completely unsubstantiated claims. And what the government’s done, rightfully so, is actually provide the evidence to New Zealanders, which is not being refuted by the others, and it absolutely shoots down their argument. So if they wanted to come and present to us the evidence that supports their claims, last night was their chance. The eyes of the New Zealand public and media were on their meeting and they utterly failed to do anything other than provide rhetoric.”


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