Former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden warned New Zealanders in a media blitz on Monday that all of their private emails, phone calls and text messages are being spied on despite government denials.
"If you live in New Zealand, you are being watched," Snowden said in a commentary published by the Intercept, an online news site co-founded by Guardian columnist Glenn Greenwald, Snowden's main conduit for disclosing classified information he absconded with when he fled his NSA job last year.
Like his former NSA employers, New Zealand's Government Communications Security Bureau covertly gathers metadata that allow it to track "every website you visit, every text message you send, every call you make, every ticket you purchase, every donation you make, and every book you order online," the 31-year-old Snowden said in his commentary.
New Zealand Prime Minister John Key has steadfastly denied reports about alleged data mining via the Southern Cross undersea cable network. "There is not, and never has been, mass surveillance of New Zealanders undertaken by the GCSB," Key is quoted as saying by the Sydney Morning Herald.
Snowden countered that Key is responsible for Government Communications Security Bureau operations and "is directly involved in the untargeted, bulk interception and algorithmic analysis of private communications sent via internet, satellite, radio and phone networks."
New Zealanders go to the polls on Saturday, and political analysts have observed that Key's re-election chances could be affected by Snowden's latest disclosures.
After the Intercept publication, Snowden and WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange appeared via satellite linkups from their respective refuges in Moscow and London at a conference of privacy advocates hosted by fugitive Internet entrepreneur Kim Dotcom and headlined by Greenwald.
Britain's Guardian newspaper called the showy gathering "an international all-star lineup of the White House's most-loathed." U.S. extradition warrants are outstanding on Snowden, Assange and Dotcom, a Finnis German hacker who was born Kim Schmitz and is wanted in connection with alleged pirating of Hollywood entertainment products.
The packed conference at the town hall in Auckland purported to disclose evidence of collusion among U.S. justice officials, Warner Bros. executives and Key in a failed attempt four years ago to lure Dotcom to New Zealand with promises of asylum then deliver him to Washington to face charges.
"John Key told me in private that they are granting Dotcom residency despite pushback from officials about his criminal past," said an email reported by the New Zealand Herald to have been written by Warner Chief Executive Kevin Tsujihara on Oct. 27, 2010. "His AG [attorney general] will do everything in his power to assist us with our case. VIP treatment and then a one-way ticket to Virginia [where charges would be filed]."
The "evidence" was immediately denounced as a "fabrication" by Warner Bros.' senior vice president for worldwide communications, Paul McGuire, the New Zealand Herald reported.