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John Key On "Mass Collection" Versus "Mass Surveillance"

John Key On Mass Collection Versus Mass Surveillance

By Alastair Thompson

Transcript from supplemented by Scoop

New Zealand Prime Minister John Key has discovered a loophole in his August 2013 promise to resign if the GCSB was found to have engaged in "mass surveillance" of New Zealanders, namely that "mass collection" is a different thing, and if the GCSB is found to be doing that, then it would not trigger his promise.

The Green Party has laid a complaint with the Inspector General of Intelligence and Security about revelations from Investigative Journalist Nicky Hager about the GCSB's role in conducting surveillance in the Pacific for the so called "Five Eyes" intelligence alliance which includes New Zealand, Australia, Canada, Great Britain and the USA.

The following transcript is of remarks made at New Zealand Prime Minister John Key’s regular Monday post-Cabinet media conference. In the press conference (at about 12 minutes 11 seconds into it in the video embedded below) Key is asked about the distinction between "mass collection" of data and "mass surveillance" of New Zealanders.

In August 2013 on the eve of the passage of a GCSB Amendment Bill Prime Minister John Key told reporters he and the Director of the GCSB - his childhood friend Ian Fletcher - would resign if it was discovered that the GCSB was engaged in mass surveillance. Mr Fletcher resigned in December for personal reasons.

The distinction between "surveillance" and "collection" has become the PM's latest justification for his decision not to resign following revelations based on Edward Snowden leaked documents last week that "full take" intelligence collection is underway in the Pacific.

This morning Key was interviewed by National Radio's Guyon Espiner and said New Zealanders were not entitled to know whether their personal information was being collected and provided to the NSA by the GCSB.

The stories published in several NZ newspapers last Thursday alleged that the GCSB - NZ's arm of the so-called "Five Eyes" intelligence alliance - had "hovered" up New Zealander's personal information along with that of the many Pacific States that it is spying on.

In the transcript that follows John Key does not define what "mass collection" is or clarify what the GCSB actually does - which was discussed in some detail last Thursday by the GCSB Director at the time Sir Bruce Ferguson (who used the analogy of whitebaiting). However Key does clarify in answer to a question that "mass surveillance" is not "mass collection" and that if it turns out that the GCSB does do the latter, i.e. "mass collection", then his promise to resign does not apply.

Meanwhile in an extended interview broadcast tonight on - a new website set up by former Scoop Co-Editor Selwyn Manning - investigative journalist Nicky Hager explains in greater detail what he thinks the GCSB is actually doing at its Waihopai satellite communications interception station in Marlborough. According to Hager the NZ Prime Minister probably isn't aware of a lot of what the GCSB is up to.

[Update - Full Transcript Released: Transcript PM's Post-Cabinet Press Conference: 9 March 2015]

Transcript follows:

Starting at 12 minutes 11 seconds into the Press Conference

Question: On GCSB, this morning you were asked about Bruce Ferguson's comments. Is there are difference between mass surveillance and mass collection. Do you draw a distinction between the two?

NZ PM John Key: I am sure the lawyers would tell you there is a difference. But I am not going to into critique all those different points. I mean. The fundamental difference between the SIS and GCSB. In the case of the GCSB they are a foreign intelligence agency. They gather intelligence about particular reasons. They have for many many governments lifespan. They do it for good reasons and they are controlled by the law.

But I am not going to go into what their particular targets are. What a warrant is raised for. How information is actually gathered and how it is processed. So no - by definition its covert - no agency does that. So in the end you've got a bit of, in my opinion, you've got a bit of what was demonstrated with he moment of truth last year was a moment of inaccuracy, because actually what they came out and said was just plain wrong.

In my opinion some of the assumptions, some of the definitions of the assumptions are wrong, some of the ways the information is presented is wrong, but I am just not going to go through all of those individual things because in the end that's just not the way you run those intelligence agencies.

Question: You’ve said you’ll resign if there’s mass surveillance by the GCSB.

NZ PM John Key: Yep.

Question: Does that promise apply to mass collection of information as well?

NZ PM John Key: No, because in the end I was asked a very specific question, without re-creating history, and that was: are we conducting mass surveillance of New Zealanders? And the answer is: No. That’s the advice I’ve had from GCSB. It’s not capable of doing that, and legally it’s not allowed to do that.

Question: But you’ve just said "no" to the question “Does it apply to mass collection?” So mass collection would not trigger - if it was proved there is mass collection - it wouldn’t trigger a resignation under the promise you’ve given?

NZ PM John Key: No.

Question: So the possibility is surely, I don’t know why this can’t be clarified but, the way the GCSB operates, that it hoovers up a whole lot of information and then just drops out the material that relates to New Zealanders.

NZ PM John Key: Well that’s your assessment of it, and look, in the end the law is pretty clear. The law says you can’t collect information about New Zealanders unless there are certain circumstances, and in the event that you collect incidental information about New Zealanders, ah then you know there’s a way of treating that.

And so my view is, look, we have the law. We have a purpose of what it’s allowed to do. And actually you have an Inspector General that’s both had the resources massively increased, and the power significantly increased, and so far in the twelve months that the new Inspector General’s been in the job, she hasn’t raised with me concerns. Ah I’m sure she’ll continue to do her work. Ah she’ll continue to look at these matters. No other previous Inspector General has raised concerns with me.

Um the assurances I’ve had on a repeated basis is as the former Minister I’ve asked them on numerous occasions, especially when the questions were being asked some time ago. And the absolute assurances I’ve had from the Minister, they do not undertake mass surveillance against New Zealanders. That’s all I can tell you.

(Note to those who don’t understand in New Zild English “hoovers” means “vacuums” as in a cyber vacuum cleaner).


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