New documents from the cache of files leaked by Edward Snowden show that New Zealand’s intelligence agency has been collecting in bulk the cell phone, email, and internet files of people across the Pacific Island nations and handing that data over to the U.S. National Security Agency in an operation one angered lawmaker now describes as a “giant vacuum cleaner of information.”
Reported jointly by investigative journalist Nick Hager, the New Zealand Herald and The Intercept, the latest revelations show how the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) was asked “to plug holes” in the NSA’s global spying network by carrying out a mass surveillance operation of numerous island nations—including the Cook Islands, Tuvalu, Nauru, Kiribati, Vanuatu, the Solomon Islands, French Polynesia, Samoa, Fiji, and Tonga—many of which route their communications needs through New Zealand.
“This was basically a giant vacuum cleaner for information from all these countries since 2009,” explained Russel Norman, co-leader of the New Zealand Green Party who said he was very concerned about what’s been learned about the behavior of the GCSB.
“This isn’t just about the Pacific, it’s about all of us. My view is that privacy is essential to being a human being. Without some private space it’s simply not possible to develop properly as a person, as a human being. And what [Prime Minister] John Key and the NSA are doing is is removing all of our privacy and I just think that’s wrong.” —Russel Norman, NZ Green Party co-leaderThe journalists reporting the story have also said that additional details about mass surveillance conducting by the GCSB will be forthcoming in the days ahead.
“The Five Eyes countries led by the US are literally trying to spy on every country in the world,” Hager said during an interview with New Zealand Radio, “and what we’re going to be hearing about in the next few days is New Zealand in all kinds of very surprising ways playing a role in that,” he said.
Prime Minister John Key is under fire over the details and implications of the spying operation in the Pacific even as he tried to downplay their significance.
“Firstly, some of the information was incorrect, some of the information is out of date, some of the assumptions made were just plain wrong,” argued Key during a press briefing to reporters. “But we do have the GCSB and it is a foreign intelligence service and it does gather foreign intelligence that is in the best interests of New Zealand and protecting New Zealanders.”
According to The Intercept:
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