Edward Snowden is accusing New Zealand of conducting mass electronic surveillance despite Prime Minister John Key’s repeated denials.
Snowden used Glenn Greenwald’s The Intercept to publish documents which allege that New Zealand’s domestic spy agency, the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB), exploited a new internet surveillance law to collect metadata on New Zealanders’ online behavior.
The Intercept said that the leaked top secret documents show that the GCSB and NSA implemented Phase I of a mass surveillance effort called “Speargun” sometime in 2012 or early 2013. According to the report, Speargun involved tapping the country’s main undersea cable link, the Southern Cross cable, which carries most of New Zealand’s internet communication with the outside world. “If you live in New Zealand you are being watched,” Snowden said on The Intercept’s website.
Prime Minister Key had originally said that the new surveillance law wouldn’t lead to a radical overhaul of how the GCSB conducted its mission. In anticipation of the leaked documents, however, Key recently said that a mass surveillance program had been developed but that he had stopped it from being implemented. The program “never got off the ground,” Key told reporters.
He went on to add, “Claims have been made tonight that are simply wrong and that is because they are based on incomplete information… There is not, and never has been, a cable access surveillance program operating in New Zealand.” Key also declassified a batch of Cabinet documents that he alleges prove he nixed the program before it began.
Snowden has been unequivocal in his response to Key, writing, “Let me be clear: any statement that mass surveillance is not performed in New Zealand, or that the internet communications are not comprehensively intercepted and monitored… is categorically false.” He also claimed to have personally viewed New Zealanders online repeatedly while employed as a contractor of the U.S. National Security Agency.
It should be noted that Snowden and Greenwald’s decision to leak the documents now appears to be politically motivated. Both men are supporting Megaupload founder Kim Dotcom’s bid to unseat the Key administration in the country’s general elections on Saturday. Dotcom, who is currently wanted by the United States for his ownership of the now defunct file-sharing site Megaupload, is a German national and not a citizen of New Zealand. He therefore isn’t eligible to run for office.
Still, he has poured nearly $5 million into his new political party, the Internet Party, whose platform includes pledging to “modernize New Zealand, give the Internet generation a voice in politics, become a leader in the Internet economy and fight for Internet Freedom.” He has suggested his party would eliminate the GCSB if it wins office. Greenwald appeared at a campaign event hosted by Dotcom and the Internet Party on Monday, with Snowden and Wikileaks founder Julian Assange being beamed into the conference.