Updated 11:29 AM EDT, Tue, Jun 16, 2020

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Snowden: New Zealand Spied On Citizens, Government Denial ‘False’

New Zealand Prime Minister John Key

(Photo : REUTERS) New Zealand Prime Minister John Key says he will declassify documents that prove the government's mass spying initiative never pushed through.

New Zealand has been actively involved in mass Internet surveillance activities and denials of such from Prime Minister John Key are false, said NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden in an article at The Intercept published Sunday.

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The documents Snowden leaked show that the New Zealand government took advantage of a law that allowed a broader role for its main intelligence agency - Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) - to spy on its citizens.

At the time, Key sought to allay concerns and said the new law only aims to redefine "ambiguous legal framework" and is not intended for "wholesale spying" against New Zealanders.

But Snowden claims the GCSB is directly involved in untargeted mass collection and analysis of private data gathered from the internet, radio, satellite and phone network.

"At NSA I routinely came across the communications of New Zealanders in my work with a mass surveillance tool we share with GCSB, called "XKEYSCORE," he said.

The program is shared by the Five Eyes which pertain to New Zealand, Australia, Canada, England and the U.S. All five countries jointly collaborate on internet traffic monitoring and intelligence gathering.

Based on actual XKEYSCORE documentation which is available online, Snowden notes a "Five Eyes Defeat" option which offers the user a choice to filter out search results from a particular country.

He said the "Five Eyes Defeat" option only supports the truth that New Zealand is actively involved in spying on its citizens.

"Why do analysts have a checkbox on a top secret system that hides the results of mass surveillance in New Zealand if there is no mass surveillance in New Zealand?" he asked.

On Saturday, Key admitted the government had intended to develop a mass surveillance program but said the project had been shelved before it was even implemented, adding that he would declassify documents to support his claim.

The prime minister's comments were reportedly made in anticipation of Snowden's report, a separate The Intercept report noted.

But it seems Key may once again be disputed.

Documents indicate the project, codenamed Speargun (aka Phase 1), had been implemented and had actually been completed.

In a 2012 NSA document, the words "Project Speargun underway" was written while another NSA document with the heading "New Zealand" said "Partner cable access program achieves Phase 1."

Phase 1 was primarily involved in the installation of cable equipment, specifically the undersea cable link Southern Cross cable which carries the bulk of New Zealand's internet traffic to the rest of the world.

Upon completion, the program moves on to Phase 2 where metadata probes are added to the cables. This stage allows for mass surveillance measures typically used by the NSA and other partners to gather huge amounts of information in real time.

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