New Zealand’s Prime Minister John Key denied allegations the country had planned mass surveillance operations as revealed in documents leaked by Edward Snowden.
According to US journalist Glenn Greenwald, citing Snowden’s documents, New Zealand was preparing to conduct mass domestic surveillance last year as part of a project dubbed Speargun.
Backed by amended surveillance laws, the country’s electronic surveillance agency wanted to tap an undersea telecoms cable into the country, but was eventually stopped by a legal authority.
"Phase one entailed accessing that cable, tapping into it, and then phase two would entail metadata probes," Greenwald said on Radio New Zealand National.
However, New Zealand’s Prime Minister Key, speaking only five days before elections, denied the allegations.
According to Key, the project put forward by Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) early last year aimed at mass cyber protection, but was turned down by his government.
"There is not, and never has been, a cable access surveillance programme operating in New Zealand," Key said in a statement, as he released several declassified papers to back his position.
"There is not, and never has been, mass surveillance of New Zealanders undertaken by the GCSB."
New Zealand law provides that the GCSB, which conducts electronic surveillance and is part of the "Five Eyes" surveillance network along with the United States, Britain, Australia and Canada, can only spy on New Zealand citizens if requested by a domestic law enforcement or intelligence agency.
Key said Greenwald, who was brought to New Zealand by millionaire Internet entrepreneur Kim Dotcom, was being used to try to influence voters ahead of the election.
Dotcom, who is fighting extradition to the US on charges of Internet piracy, copyright breaches and money laundering, has paid for Greenwald's trip to New Zealand.
Greenwald appeared at a public meeting of more than 1,000 people organised by a political party being bankrolled by Dotcom, at which the ebullient German had promised revelations damaging to Key.