New Zealand Spy Agency Head Denies Claims of Mass Surveillance on Kiwis

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By Reissa Su | May 8, 2014 11:56 AM EST

New Zealand's Government Communications and Security Bureau (GCSB) head Ian Fletcher has denied accusations that the spy agency is conducting a mass surveillance on Kiwis. In a seminar in Wellington organised by the Privacy Commission on May 7, Mr Fletcher said the country has legitimate concerns in preventing organised crime, terrorism and nuclear arms trade.

The spy agency head said the actual surveillance affects only a few people whom he said are "doing really bad stuff." Mr Fletcher said it would take a huge increase in his salary budget to implement mass surveillance. He added it would be impractical because the agency will need 130,000 staff to listen to everyone's phone calls and monitor their text messages.

The GCSB head went on to refute what he described as a "libertarian fantasy" or state security was necessary and the "paranoid fantasy" in which the state was "out to get you." He repeatedly mentioned Thomas Hobbes, a British philosopher who argued a "strong state" was required to keep the public's evil tendencies in line.

However, long-time critic and member of lobby group Tech Liberty Thomas Beagle found only little assurance in Mr Fletcher's comments. Mr Beagle said even if mass surveillance was not in place, New Zealand's spy agency was still watching the people it needs to monitor but who might have no criminal ties.

Privacy Commissioner John Edwards was apparently satisfied with the speech. Mr Edwards said he hoped Mr Fletcher's denial of mass surveillance will finally put the issue to rest and dispel rumours of conspiracies.

Following the spying claims made against Australia by Indonesia and the Edward Snowden leaks, New Zealand Prime Minister John Key sought confirmation from Mr Fletcher that the spy agency does not collect metadata from Kiwis.

However, despite the GCSB assurance, Mr Key was unable to confirm to reporters whether the U.S. National Security Agency collected private information on New Zealanders. He told the press that he "didn't know".

Prime Minister Key told reporters that he talked with the GCSB head and asked for confirmation if New Zealand had collected metadata on Kiwis. The GCSB chief told him that there was no such thing.  Since no data was collected, there was nothing to share.

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