New GCSB minister Andrew Little says he would be "personally very uncomfortable" with an electronic intelligence agency that was able to capture large tracts of New Zealanders' personal information.

But Little also says he has confidence the Government Communications Security Bureau is acting inside the law.

"You've got to trust the system, and the checks and balances and oversight of the agencies which I am very certain is way more rigorous than perhaps it might have been even 10 years ago."

The statement was in response to the NZ Herald's revelation that documents relating to the Speargun internet cable-tapping system system showed a different series of events than that described by former Prime Minister Sir John Key.

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Speargun was revealed by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden and journalist Glenn Greenwald in the final days of the 2014 election.

They challenged Key over his promise to resign if mass surveillance was taking place and disclosed details about Speargun's ability to suck data out of our only internet connection to the world.

But Key said they were wrong and that Speargun had been cancelled in March 2013 because he believed it was "too intrusive".

The Herald investigation found Key approved the use of a Speargun test probe by signing a warrant which would have allowed the GCSB to spike it into the Southern Cross Cable and access New Zealanders' data.

NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, via video link, with author Glenn Greenwald and Kim Dotcom.
NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, via video link, with author Glenn Greenwald and Kim Dotcom.

Rather than stopping the project in March 2013, work continued on Speargun for months, then Key was briefed in June 2013 that Snowden could have stolen details about it and funding was eventually pulled by Cabinet in September 2013.

Little said he had been briefed on the Speargun project since taking on the role and had been assured it was legal.

"A warrant was issued for Speargun but the warrant was cancelled when they decided not to go ahead with deploying Speargun."

Little said the GCSB was bound from seeking "personal information or intruding into people's lives" without a warrant.

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He said each warrant was reviewed by the Inspector General of Intelligence and Security.

"In terms of the world in which (intelligence agencies) have to operate, there are good checks and balances that are accessible to every citizen."

Little was asked whether he would be involved in wide-scale capture of New Zealanders' personal information.

He said: "I'm personally very uncomfortable with that and the review Michael Cullen and Patsy Reddy did (into intelligence agencies) said the agencies did not do that."

Little said the legal protections meant he was "very confident about the protection of New Zealanders' privacy rights and not being intruded upon".

New GCSB minister Andrew Little says he's confident the GCSB is acting within the law. Photo / Michael Craig
New GCSB minister Andrew Little says he's confident the GCSB is acting within the law. Photo / Michael Craig

He said there was an acknowledgement in the law of a trade-off between privacy and accessing information which contributed to New Zealand's safety.

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"There's a balance to strike when one of the biggest threats around the world now is cyber threats and you've got to have the means and mechanisms to defend NZ and our networks from that."

Little said he was now receiving intelligence briefings which included the threats New Zealand faced.

And New Zealand - it's okay.

Little said: "There's nothing I've felt alarmed about as minister in charge of those agencies."