Wider examination needed

Allegations by former National Security Agency worker Edward Snowden of a United States spy facility in Auckland - and another in the country's north - are clearly of interest to New Zealand citizens.

During the Moment of Truth meeting, held in Auckland on Monday by internet entrepreneur Kim Dotcom, Mr Snowden said by video link from Russia: ''If you live in New Zealand, you are being watched.''

His claims came soon after an online article was published claiming he had evidence of mass surveillance of Kiwis' electronic communications by the Government Communications Security Bureau.

The article claimed that while working at the NSA, he routinely came across the communications of New Zealanders through X-Keyscore, the mass surveillance tool shared with the GCSB.

The tool allowed access to a database of communications collected through mass surveillance and was not meant for cybersecurity, but instead was used to read private emails, text messages and internet traffic.

During a visit to Dunedin yesterday, Prime Minister John Key challenged Mr Snowden and journalist Glenn Greenwald to front up with evidence of their claims.

Neither had provided any actual evidence of their claims, he said, labelling their assertions nothing but rhetoric.

The Government had provided evidence that shot down their arguments, he said.

If they wanted to provide evidence supporting their claims, Monday night was their chance and they failed to produce.

GCSB head Ian Fletcher and former head Bruce Ferguson had both told him there were no NSA bases in New Zealand, he said.

Mr Key refused to discuss the use of X-Keyscore and whether the GCSB had access to it.

He did, however, say the law did not allow GCSB to carry out mass surveillance.

An earlier claim by Mr Greenwald was Southern Cross undersea cables had been tapped into or accessed.

This was rated as total nonsense by Southern Cross chief executive Anthony Briscoe.

The cables, which link New Zealand to Australia, the Pacific and the United States, are untouched, he says.

The spying debate is complicated, but it is surely naive for New Zealanders to think the country's spy agency is not collecting data on behalf of others.

Australia is also deeply involved in the issue because of the cable stretching between New Zealand and that country.

Remembering that Australian spy agencies attempted to listen in on the personal phone calls of the Indonesian President, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, and have targeted the mobile phones of his wife, senior ministers and confidants, it is clear how sensitive the issue is across the Tasman. Certainly, the claims of tapping of the undersea cables received coverage in the Australian media this week.

Mr Snowden released much of the information being discussed in New Zealand this week.

It is disappointing he made the claims without providing any documented proof, even allowing for what University of Otago Professor Andrew Geddis describes as his ''good track record''.

Mr Key has been very careful in his statements around spying, and with good reason.

New Zealand is part of the ''Five Eyes'' network, along with the US, Canada, Australia and Britain.

Conflict around the world means spy agencies will exchange information in their attempts to curb terrorist activities, for instance.

It is also unrealistic to expect spy agencies from other countries not to operate in New Zealand.

Business espionage alone is a worldwide phenomenon - and why would New Zealand be exempt when others are not?

The suggestion is unfathomable.

Many New Zealand companies operate in a global economy and are trading in some of the world's biggest economies.

As such, it is possible some Kiwi companies may well respond in kind, as any competitive advantage will add dollars to the bottom line.

So it is accepted by many that such activities have, and do, take place in this country.

But Kiwis will not - and should not - countenance being lied to, or deceived.

There is certainly a case for a wider examination of the claims made by Mr Snowden and others.

New Zealanders can and do accept most things with an open mind.

Deception and falsehoods are not among them.

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