Prime Minister John Key yesterday suggested Cheryl Gwyn, Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security, would tell him if she thought the Government Communications Security Bureau was acting outside the law in collecting Kiwis' communications.

So far in the 12 months Ms Gwyn had been in the job, "she hasn't raised with me concerns", Mr Key said. "I'm sure she ... will continue to look at these matters. No other inspector general has raised concerns with me."

He pointed out that powers and resources of the Inspector-General have been "massively increased".

John Key says new claims around intelligence collection are wrong - but he won't say why. He also says the GCSB is acting legally - but won't say how. And he says we are spying - but won't say on who. The Prime Minister has fronted media after a day of controversy caused by the publication of documents taken by whistleblower Edward Snowden while a contractor for the United States' National Security Agency.

Fresh questions about GCSB activities have been raised since New Zealand-related documents Edward Snowden took from America's National Security Agency in 2013 were published last week.

Advertisement

It showed the GCSB, as part of its obligations to the Five Eyes intelligence alliance, conducted "full-take collection" of communications such as email, texts and phone calls from Pacific countries to store at the NSA for future use. In terms of what happens in the Cook Islands and Niue, where all citizens are Kiwis, documents show ordinary people's communications are not collected and the targets are the Governments.

It is thought that of most interest to intelligence agencies are communications between Pacific countries and China, the Pacific and Russia, and criminals.

In the past week, Mr Key has refused to spell out how the GCSB, New Zealand's specialist foreign intelligence agency, works but says he has been repeatedly assured by the agency it is working within the law.

Russel Norman gives his thoughts on revelations that New Zealand is spying on our Pacific neighbours.

"In the end the law is pretty clear. [It] says you can't collect information about New Zealanders unless there are certain circumstances and in the event that you collect incidental information about New Zealanders, there is a way of treating that."

Mr Key told reporters in August 2013 he would resign if it was found the GCSB conducted mass surveillance on New Zealanders.

Much of the current debate rests on the concept of "mass surveillance" which is not a legal term in the current GCSB act or the old one which was controversially amended in 2013 when Mr Key made his pledge.

His critics appear to believe communications of any Kiwi holidaying or living in the Pacific amount to mass surveillance of New Zealanders.

He is not offering his definition.

Advertisement

Both the old act and the new say interceptions by GCSB cannot target Kiwis or permanent residents. But the new law sets out when that collected incidentally can be kept. Under the old act, more of it had to be destroyed.