Norman versus Key, collection versus surveillance

At Question Time in Parliament today Russel Norman quizzed John Key on the differences between mass collection and mass surveillance.

It adds a bit to the ongoing dispute but not much. Key is adamant again that the GCSB is not involved in mass surveillance of New Zealanders as governed by the law. But Key refuses to explain what mass collection might mean.

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3. Prime Minister—GCSB Surveillance

[Sitting date: 10 March 2015. Volume:703;Page:3. Text is subject to correction.]

3. Dr RUSSEL NORMAN (Co-Leader—Green) to the Prime Minister : Does the Prime Minister still stand by his answer that he will resign if the GCSB has conducted mass surveillance of New Zealanders; if so, what is his definition of mass surveillance?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): Yes, and there is no mass surveillance of New Zealanders by the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB). To me, mass surveillance would involve surveillance of an entire population or a substantial part of that.

Dr Russel Norman : With regard to his answer that it would involve a significant proportion of the population, is he aware that there have been 1.6 million visits by New Zealanders to the Pacific from 2009 to the current day, whose private communications have been intercepted by the GCSB, and does this not meet the definition that he just gave of mass surveillance?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY : I think the member is making assumptions he should not actually make.

Dr Russel Norman : Is mass surveillance different from mass collection; if so, how?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY : Mass collection is not a term used in the Government Communications Security Bureau Act. It would mean different things to different people. But I think people understand what mass surveillance would mean. Mass surveillance is if you surveil an entire population. That does not happen. It is against the law. The Act makes it quite clear, and in fact it spells out clearly under what circumstances the GCSB can collect information about New Zealanders. It is largely set out in sections 14 and 15B of the Act.

Dr Russel Norman : Which one of the Prime Minister’s statements is correct—his statement this morning: “I don’t even know what you mean by mass collection. I’ve got no clue. It’s not a term I’ve ever seen, nor a term I’ve ever used.”, or his statement in September 2014, when he said: “There is no mass collection—not of New Zealanders.”?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY : The point I was making is that mass collection is not a term used by the GCSB. It is not a term that I use. That was in relation to a particular issue about Speargun, but it is not a term that the GCSB uses.

Mr SPEAKER : Order!

Andrew Little : Will he be straight with New Zealanders—if they travel to the Pacific Islands, will their electronic communications be captured by the GCSB and sent to the National Security Agency, or not?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY : I am not going to go through the operational details of the way that the GCSB operates, except to say that it operates within the law. The law is extremely clear about under what circumstances the collection of data about a New Zealander could occur. That is in sections 14 and 15B. But I will make this exact point. There is absolutely no—zero—change in the way things happen under this Government from what happened under Helen Clark’s. So if you want to ask these questions, I will give you her number in New York and you can give her a ring as well.

Mr SPEAKER : Order! There is just too much interchange between both front benches.

Dr Russel Norman : Is the Prime Minister aware of the statements by Sir Bruce Ferguson that mass collection and mass surveillance are basically the same things, when Sir Bruce stated on the radio: “it’s the whole method of surveillance these days. It’s … mass collection,”?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY : I am not responsible for the comments that Bruce Ferguson makes. I think the member is actually misrepresenting him. But I go back to the single point. Mass surveillance is not occurring against New Zealanders; it never has. It does not matter how many times the member says it; it is simply not true. The law is very clear about what can occur when it comes to New Zealanders, and the law is subject to oversight by the inspector-general. The inspector-general actually makes their findings public, in terms of what they do, and there are no examples that have been brought to my attention where the GCSB has acted in breach of the law, with the exception of the Kim Dotcom situation. It does not matter how many times Nicky Hager, the anti-American view, and the Green Party want to tell New Zealanders that they are being surveilled en masse, they simply are not.

Dr Russel Norman : Has it not been brought to his attention that the GCSB is engaged in full-scale collection of all the data coming out of Pacific Island nations and that many hundreds of thousands of New Zealanders have visited, or have lived in, those Pacific Island nations during the period that all that data was collected?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY : One of the problems when a member wants to rely on stolen information is that they get a very, very warped sense of reality. I would have thought, given that the member was part of the Intelligence and Security Committee for 3 years, he would have a basic understanding of the way the GCSB works. The GCSB has to establish a warrant; a warrant has to have a particular reason. The Government Communications Security Bureau Act makes it completely clear that information cannot be gathered against New Zealanders with possible exceptions that are spelt out in sections 14 and 15B of the Act. The inspector-general has total responsibility, complete opportunity, and insight to review not only the warrants but the actions of the GCSB. Just because someone goes on a holiday somewhere means absolutely nothing, and it will not matter how many times the member says that, he is simply not right. I make the point to the members opposite that nothing has changed under this Government from the previous Government. If they have got complaints or they do not like things, I will give them Helen Clark’s mobile number and they can give her a call.

Dr Russel Norman : If mass collection and mass surveillance are two different things, as the Prime Minister has been claiming, what has changed since the Prime Minister admitted on Campbell Live in August 2013 that, under the law, to go and look at someone’s email is the same as collecting their email?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY : Firstly, the law has changed, actually, in that time. But—[Interruption] Well, the law has changed. Mass surveillance of New Zealanders does not happen. There are only—

Hon Member : The story’s slipping.

Rt Hon JOHN KEY : Well, the story is exactly the same as when Helen Clark was Prime Minister. I hate to tell you the bad news. The question has always been posed by members in the Green Party that mass surveillance of New Zealanders occurs. It does not.

Dr Russel Norman : I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. It is with regard to the answer. It was a pretty specific question and I do not believe the Prime Minister has addressed it. I was using one of his own quotes.

Mr SPEAKER : Part of the question asked what had changed, and the Prime Minister said that, well, for one thing the law has changed. The question was definitely addressed. [Interruption] Order! It is very difficult for me to hear the answers with the constant barrage that is coming from my left-hand side. If it continues, I will have to ask someone to leave the Chamber.

Key on mass collection versus mass surveillance

From John Key’s Monday media conference a sort of differentiation between mass collection of data and mass surveillance.

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

Key: Yep.

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

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?

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.

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 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.

I expect from that the paranoid will remain paranoid – they don’t believe anything what Key says about surveillance anyway – and the apathetic won’t have any idea he said it let alone understand what he said.

From about 13:38:

– source Scoop: NZ PM John Key’s Post Cabinet Press Conference – 9 March 2015

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