The first Hager/Snowden story is up on the Herald. It shows that the GCSB is engaged in extensive surveillance in the Pacific, intercepting all network and telecommunications traffic in the area and routing it to NSA facilities in the US. (When GCSB analysts need to access the data they’ve intercepted they do so via NSA databases).
I don’t think its controversial for the GSCB to conduct operations in the Pacific. It’s our ‘sphere of influence’. There are coups in the Pacific. There’s corruption. Money-laundering, which is probably related to organised crime and could conceivably be funding terrorism. We have economic interests in the region, and despite all the rhetoric about ‘keeping us safe’, spying is frequently conducted for commercial purposes.
The problem is that almost all surveillance is now mass surveillance. Intelligence operations used to be targeted against individuals or companies or groups or governments. Now it’s just easier to spy on everyone and mine the data for targets of interest. So we’re violating the privacy of hundreds of thousands of people who live in nations that are friendly to us with no justification other than that it is technologically convenient.
The spies and politicians who enable them will bark, red-faced, that this is not mass-surveillance, because they don’t class gathering data as surveillance, only looking at it. The problem, as Snowden demonstrated, is that an awful lot of people can look at it. There are hundreds of thousands – possibly millions – of people across the five-eye countries that can access this data.
And the agencies themselves seem untrustworthy. The oversight is inadequate. Last year we found out that the head of the SIS was passing on misleading information to political staffers in the Prime Minister’s office to discredit the leader of the opposition.
These security agencies have incredible powers. They justify them on the basis that they’re ‘keeping us safe’. Nothing we know about them suggests that they do anything of the kind. Everything we do know about them involves them lying to us and abusing their powers. If we’re going to have a state that conducts mass-surveillance – and apparently we are, because we do – then it needs to be implemented and regulated properly.
As for Five-Eyes, I guess New Zealand’s attitude towards it is basically a realist/fatalist position. If there is going to be a terrifying global Orwellian mass surveillance network we might as well be members of it. That might change when the inevitable stories of its abuse surface.