The Prime Minister has previously promised to resign if it is proven that the GCSB carries out mass surveillance of New Zealanders. His critics say that the latest Snowden revelations do indeed show that. So, should he resign?
John Key's biggest critic at the moment seems to be international investigative journalist Glenn Greenwald, who has penned an aggressive critique of the PM's resolution to stay in office - see: NZ Prime Minister retracts vow to resign if mass surveillance is shown. Greenwald is scathing about Key's integrity and his "reneging on a public pledge to resign" now that "a mountain of evidence has been presented that indisputably proves that New Zealand does exactly that which Prime Minister Key vehemently denied".
Key is clearly not going anywhere and is adamant that "mass surveillance" is not occurring. For his side of things, it's really worth listening to Key's 10-minute interview with Radio NZ's Guyon Espiner: PM won't give assurance NZers not caught in eavesdropping.
So, is the GCSB carrying out "mass surveillance" or not? According to Bruce Ferguson, there is certainly "mass collection" occurring - listen to his very interesting 7-minute interview with Guyon Espiner: Former GCSB director unfazed by spy revelations.
It seems that the debate is now hinging on the technicalities between the concepts of "mass surveillance" versus "mass collection". There's an increasing tendency for the Government to admit that "mass collection" occurs, but deny that this equates with any sort of "mass surveillance". For a short discussion of the different terms (plus "interception") see No Right Turn's Collection, surveillance, and interception.
Whatever the truth, we should be taking the latest revelations seriously according to Andrea Vance, who has written a must-read opinion piece: Silence on surveillance not healthy. Vance explains why the public shouldn't have faith in the current spy agency arrangements.
Key's aggressive response to the scandal
The Prime Minister has front footed his defence of the GCSB very aggressively, which Andrea Vance details best in her article
Key's response has been criticised by many, with the best versions being Tracy Watkins'
, Fran O'Sullivan's
, Toby Manhire's
, and James Robins'
Key has also sought to reassure the public about the GCSB's legitimacy by pointing to the fact that neither the current - nor the previous - official watch dog on the GSCB has raised any concerns with him about dubious GCSB operations - see RNZ's
The Reassurance of authorities
It's not just the PM who is giving strong assurances that nothing untoward, illegal or wrong is going on. The spy agencies and officials themselves are pleading their innocence - see Andrea Vance's
Such assurances are seemingly convincing even to Opposition MPs, who are receiving a top secret briefing from security officials and saying they are less concerned - see Audrey Young's
What is the public to make of the fact that we are being told by the Government and authorities that no "mass surveillance" is taking place, but told by a number of respected investigative journalists that the Snowdon documents show the opposite?
One possibility is that the GCSB are, in fact, correct in keeping to the letter of the law, but not the spirit. Great efforts, it seems, are made to find loopholes in which spy agencies can follow the law but also carry out mass surveillance. This is explained very well in the must-read blog post by Denis Tegg, in which it is explained that the new legal definition of 'private communications' effectively means that everything is open slather - see:
In their latest appearance at the annual parliamentary select committee hearings yesterday, the spy officials would not answer some basic questions - especially about whether they are undertaking mass collection (or 'full-take'). They have defended their lack of transparency with the usual reference to the need for secrecy.
But isn't there still room for the agencies to provide much more information to convince the public of their lawfulness? In this regard, Thomas Beagle of the NZ Council for Civil Liberties has put forward
. He argues that the GCSB could easily release its legal analyses of what it can and can't do. Beagle says "As these legal analyses would only discuss the publicly available law, I believe that making them public would not risk New Zealand's security. This would lead to a better public understanding of what the GCSB can and cannot do under the current law thereby reducing uncertainty and increasing trust".
Latest spy revelations
The latest Snowden files show that the New Zealand Government says one thing in its foreign policy, but acts differently in its global surveillance operations - see Nicky Hager and Ryan Gallagher's
. So although our country likes to portray itself as altruistic in its global role, it plays an entirely more aggressive and subversive role in reality. Therefore, after these revelations, our understanding of this country's foreign policy will never be the same again.
For more on how New Zealand spies on people, politicians and governments across the Pacific, see Nicky Hager, Ryan Gallagher and Anthony Hubbard's
Of the latest Snowden spy revelations, possibly the most important is Nicky Hager and Ryan Gallagher's
, which details how the New Zealand spying operations work. See also Sunday Star Times'
In terms of the technical revelations, Ryan Gallagher's article in The Intercept is important - see:
. It shows how the New Zealand spies are now using cyber attacks overseas. The GCSB is said to use 'malware to infect and spy on computers, and to monitor cellphones', as well as 'covert listening posts hidden in New Zealand embassy and high commission buildings'.
It's all about New Zealand playing the role of "junior lieutenant" to the United States' need to keep "the South Pacific safe for imperialism" - see Chris Trotter's
. But according to blogger, No Right Turn, the technical way this is done, with a massive "dragnet" is
Public debate about spying and civil liberties
The meaningfulness and relevance of the Snowden revelations are still being processed, and there's a fair degree of polarisation about it all. There certainly needs to be greater debate, especially with an upcoming parliamentary inquiry about to take place - which is best dealt with in David Fisher's
In such a debate we need to think about the big issues of freedom and safety - which Keith Ng blogs about thoughtfully in
, and Amnesty International's Grant Bayldon writes about in
There's been a series of useful newspaper editorials about the latest revelations, which are also helpful to the public debate - see the Herald's
, the Otago Daily Times'
, the Timaru Herald's
, the Dominion Post's
, the Manawatu Standard's
, and The Press'
Also, for an interesting and insightful discussion of the latest issues, see the 25-minute video interview by the Evening Report's Selwyn Manning:
. Or read the Full Transcript:
Finally, for some humour on the issue, see my updated blog post
and Ben Uffindell's two satirical blog posts,
Debate on this article is now closed.