Monday, September 15, 2014

The GCSB is tapping all our traffic

This morning, John Key categorically denied that the GCSB had tapped the Southern Cross Cable.

But according to an article by Gleen Greenwald just published in The Intercept, he lied about that too:

Top secret documents provided by the whistleblower demonstrate that the GCSB, with ongoing NSA cooperation, implemented Phase I of the mass surveillance program code-named “Speargun” at some point in 2012 or early 2013. “Speargun” involved the covert installation of “cable access” equipment, which appears to refer to surveillance of the country’s main undersea cable link, the Southern Cross cable. This cable carries the vast majority of internet traffic between New Zealand and the rest of the world, and mass collection from it would mark the greatest expansion of GCSB spying activities in decades.

Upon completion of the first stage, Speargun moved to Phase II, under which “metadata probes” were to be inserted into those cables. The NSA documents note that the first such metadata probe was scheduled for “mid-2013.” Surveillance probes of this sort are commonly used by NSA and their partners to tap into huge flows of information from communication cables in real time, enabling them to extract the dates, times, senders, and recipients of emails, phone calls, and the like. The technique is almost by definition a form of mass surveillance; metadata is relatively useless for intelligence purposes without a massive amount of similar data to analyze it against and trace connections through.


the documents indicate that Speargun was not just an idea that stalled at the discussion stage. It was a system GCSB actively worked to implement. One top secret 2012 NSA document states: “Project Speargun underway.” Another top secret NSA document discussing the activities of its surveillance partners reports, under the heading “New Zealand,” that “Partner cable access program achieves Phase I.”

Critically, the NSA documents note in more than one place that completion of Speargun was impeded by one obstacle: The need to enact a new spying law that would allow the GCSB, for the first time, to spy on its own citizens as well as legal residents of the country. As one NSA planning document put it, completion of Speargun was “awaiting new GCSB Act expected July 2013.”

Key has of course said that his spy law did not legalise metadata spying. But he lied about that too; it was the whole purpose of the law.

But this is no longer about the Prime Minister's honesty - it is about our freedom. Our own spies have conspired to tap all our international phone and internet traffic. And they've had a law passed to make it all legal, while getting the Prime Minister to systematically lie to the public about what it entailed. The presence of the GCSB is no longer compatible with our democracy. We must vote their pawns out and shut them down.