David Fisher

Senior reporter of the year

Key: No GCSB legal loophole

Prime Minister John Key yesterday refused to be drawn on whether New Zealand's spies used the system. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Prime Minister John Key yesterday refused to be drawn on whether New Zealand's spies used the system. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Prime Minister John Key has categorically denied that the Government Communications Security Bureau has been circumventing New Zealand law by accessing information from an international spying network.

But crucially he has yet to make a statement on whether the spy bureau actually uses or has access to the Prism system which the US uses to harvest information from Facebook, Gmail and other technology giants.

Mr Key, who is the Minister in charge of the GCSB, told TV3's Firstline the bureau did not get information about New Zealanders through the data harvesting system Prism to get around a ban against spying on its own citizens.

"I can't tell you how the United States gather all of their information, what techniques they use, I just simply don't know. But if the question is do we use the United States or one of our other partners to circumvent New Zealand law then the answer is categorically no,'' he said

"We do exchange - and it's well known - information with our partners. We do do that. How they gather that information and whether they use techniques or systems like Prism I can't comment on that.''

His comments come as it was revealed top secret papers showing internet tycoon Kim Dotcom's details were passed to an international spying network.

This has been cited as proof New Zealand is complicit in a surveillance system based on information sourced from some of the largest internet companies in the world.

Documents show strings of data being fed into a spying system which has links to the Five Eyes network, of which New Zealand's GCSB is a member with Australian, Canadian, UK and US partners.

It is the same information used to match personal detail harvested by the Prism system, revealed in the Guardian newspaper as being set up in 2007 to monitor people outside the US by sifting through massive amounts of data collected from Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft and other internet giants. The revelation rocked the US, forcing President Barack Obama to defend the system as a "modest encroachments on privacy", and then the UK, after it emerged its partner in the Five Eyes network had access to the Prism scheme for at least three years.

The revelation comes as the Government attempts to expand the GCSB's spying powers after a review of the bureau found it had potentially repeatedly broken the law - including with the supply of the "metadata" which powers Prism.

Mr Dotcom, who faces extradition to the US on charges of copyright violation, said he believed the GCSB sifted through Prism data with his details prior to the arrest. "It certainly did involve Prism. GCSB relies heavily on US spy technology. The Five Eyes have one brain and it sits in the US."

Papers released in the Dotcom court case support the links to the Five Eyes network but crucially have the name of the intelligence system doing the actual spying deleted. The papers were released after it emerged the GCSB illegally spied on Mr Dotcom in the lead-up to the unlawful raid in which he was arrested.

Documents show analysts tasked with organising the spying marked it as associated with the Five Eyes network. One document, classifying it as "Secret", listed the five member nations and stated: "Please enter into [name of system redacted] and mark as priority." The accompanying list is called "Selectors of Interest" and details a long string of information similar to that used in Prism. It includes cellphone numbers, driver licence details, email addresses, passport numbers, internet protocol and real world addresses.

Another document was headed up "Top Secret" and "rel to NZL/FVEY" (New Zealand/Five Eyes). It referred to "traffic volume from these selectors", showing information was intercepted.

Mr Dotcom said silence from the GCSB was "an ongoing cover-up" which would be "challenged in court".

"We intend to present our own information and expose the real conspiracy." He said the GCSB's spying was "broader and longer" than already known.

Spying network

What is Prism?
It is a spying system developed by the United States' National Security Agency for spying on foreign threats.

How does it work?
It reaches into tech giants like Facebook, Gmail and Microsoft to collect historical and real-time data which is examined for details about what targets are doing.

Is that legal?
The US cannot "intentionally" spy on its citizens. But it does collect citizens' data to find non-citizens. NZ's GCSB belongs to a spy network with the UK and US agencies which use Prism but refuses to say whether it has access.

Is my Gmail and Facebook material in there?
More than likely. Members include Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, Skype, AOL, Facebook, Apple, and YouTube.

So what? Nothing to fear, nothing to hide - right?
Data collection capturing an entire population's secrets places the power to decide what will be focused on in the executive branch of government, without the balance of Parliament or the Judiciary.

- NZ Herald

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