Monday, August 15, 2016

John Key lied about the GCSB circumventing NZ law

Back in 2013, when the Snowden leaks were first released, John Key faced some very uncomfortable questions about whether the GCSB used the NSA's PRISM system to circumvent the law (nad in particular, the law against spying on New Zealanders). His response was a categorical denial:

On TV3's Firstline this morning, the PM categorically denied New Zealand uses systems like the NSA's PRISM to circumvent NZ law.

The logic is that if the US government spy agency collects traffic arriving at its borders through PRISM, then it will be hoovering up lots of txts, emails and calls from New Zealanders (it has also been alleged PRISM collects information from the servers of tech companies like Google, Facebook, Twitter, Apple and Microsoft - the companies deny this is happening, at least with their knowledge; in some cases the denials are very carefully worded). When information is exchanged between US and NZ agencies, this US-gathered information would be shared, providing a warrant-less way to spy on Kiwis).


The Prime Minister continued: "I can’t tell you how the United States gathers all of their information and what techniques they use. I simply don’t know that."

He added, "If the question is, 'Do we use the United States or one of our other partners to circumvent New Zealand law?' then the answer is categorically no we don’t."

It turns out he was lying. A major story released by The Intercept today (and teased by TVNZ last night) tells the story of how the GCSB spied on kiwi public servant Tony Fullman over his links to Fiji's pro-democracy movement. And a key part of that spying? Getting the NSA to use PRISM to grab all of his communications, so they could be passed on to the GCSB:
Between early July and early August 2012, New Zealand spies appear to have requested American assistance to obtain the emails and Facebook communications of Fullman and Ratu [ Tevita Mara], including from a “democfiji” email address used by Fullman to organize events for the campaign group, whose slogan was “thumbs up for democracy.”

The NSA’s documents contain a “priority list” that names the two men as “Fiji targets” alongside their Gmail addresses and an account number identifying Fullman’s Facebook page. The documents indicate that the NSA began intercepting messages associated with Ratu’s accounts on about the July 9, 2012 and on August 3 started spying on Fullman’s messages. The agency also obtained historic messages from the two men dating back to the beginning of May 2012.

To conduct the electronic eavesdropping, the NSA turned to one of its most controversial surveillance programs: PRISM. The agency uses PRISM to secretly obtain communications that are processed by major technology companies like Google, Apple, Microsoft, and Yahoo, as the Washington Post and The Guardian first reported in 2013.


The classification markings on the files — “REL TO USA/NZ” — make clear that the intercepted communications were to be released to New Zealand spies. In one of the files showing Fullman’s intercepted emails and Facebook chats, the NSA explicitly noted that the intercepted material had been forwarded to its New Zealand intelligence counterpart, the GCSB.

And yet the Prime Minister was denying that was was happening just six months later, despite apparently having "personally" signed the warrant authorising the interception. I guess he just wasn't paying that much attention.

But its not just a case of political deceit about spying - it is also a crime. Because it is very clear that by receiving Fullman's information, the GCSB was intercepting it. And as that interception was not authorised by the GCSB Act (being explicitly contrary to the section 14 prohibition on intercepting the communications of New Zealanders), it is a breach of s216 of the Crimes Act.

The government clearly owes Fullman an apology and compensation for unlawfully invading his privacy. But more importantly than that, someone at the GCSB needs to go to jail. And the Prime Minister who lied to us about what they do? He needs to resign, now.