Image by Ben Thomson
More fuel has been added to an already fiery election campaign as New Zealand’s Prime Minister has been forced to refute claims from whistleblower Edward Snowden that the country is under mass surveillance. Mere days before the country heads to the polls this Saturday, the former NSA analyst addressed the New Zealander public from Moscow via videolink at an event called the “Moment Of Truth” hosted by Kim Dotcom and the Internet Party, which filled the Auckland Town Hall to capacity. Also in attendance via videolink from the Ecuadorian Embassy in London was Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, while American Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Glenn Greenwald joined the panel in person. In his short yet compelling speech, Snowden began by casually pointing out that there is a NSA base in Auckland and “one further north in the country”. Snowden went on to assert that New Zealand’s Government Communication Security Bureau (GCSB) uses surveillance tool X-KEYSCORE, a massive data mining programme that sweeps up emails, social media activity and browsing history. His claims of the country’s involvement in X-KEYSCORE are backed by documents that are already online and remain unchallenged by any governmental body. According to Snowden, the only barrier to someone in the NSA accessing the private information of an individual is a checkbox titled Five Eyes Defeat. “I know that there is mass surveillance happening in New Zealand because one of those check boxes … is in New Zealand,” Snowden explained to the crowd in attendance, as well as thousands of viewers streaming at home. “So when John Key or anyone in the New Zealand government says there is no mass surveillance in New Zealand, and they wave cyber protection programmes around … they are distracting from the main question.” Snowden while he worked as an NSA contractor he routinely came across communications from New Zealanders. In addition to this, Greenwald revealed details of Project Speargun, the GCSB's masterplan for mass surveillance. John Key has repeatedly assured New Zealanders that there has been no mass surveillance undertaken by the GCSB, which is part of the Five Eyes spying alliance. The topic provoked huge protests last year as citizens were concerned about their online privacy with the looming implementation of a GCSB amendment bill. Key rejected concerns of wholesale spying and offered comfort by saying was the being enforced as a measure of national security. In the face of a deluge of questions following Snowden’s speech, Key says he is unaware of any NSA bases in New Zealand, comparing it to the likelihood of there being Martians in the country. On the question of whether the GCSB uses X-KEYSCORE he remains tightlipped, saying “we don't discuss the specific programmes the GCSB may, or may not use”. Meanwhile, his political opponents are calling for him to come clean.
The drama is the latest in a campaign riddled with turmoil. Late last month saw the release of controversial book Dirty Politics by investigative journalist Nicky Hager, which is based on hacked information that, among other things, alleges members of the ruling National Party have continually used underhanded tactics to bring down opposition members while the Prime Minister maintains his cheery facade. Shortly following that saga, National Party member Judith “Crusher” Collins resigned from Cabinet, following the emergence of an email saying she had attempted to undermine the boss of the Serious Fraud Office while acting as the Police Minister. And hot on the heels of Snowden’s claims, is news that the National Party are being sued by music publishers that represent back-catalogue of rapper Eminem, for alleged infringement of his hit song ‘Lose Yourself’ in their campaign advertising (which is no longer online in it’s original format, but you can watch a version here). A spokesperson for the publishers said: “It is both disappointing and sadly ironic that the political party responsible for championing the rights of music publishers in New Zealand by the introduction of the 3 strikes copyright reforms should itself have so little regard for copyright.” Adding that they would never have allowed the song’s usage in connection with any political campaign. However, the National Party believes to have purchased the music legitimately. All the combined pandemonium has undoubtedly made it undoubtedly the most intriguing elections campaigns in recent memory, but it’s only a matter of days before it becomes clear if it will affect election results for the Prime Minister who has been riding high on a wave of popularity since he took the position six years ago.
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