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August 22, 2013

New Zealand Domestic Spying Bill Passes, Leaving Privacy Proponents Concerned

By Rory Lidstone, TMCnet Contributing Writer

U.S. residents may still be reeling over PRISM, but this sort of situation apparently isn’t unique to the United States. Indeed, New Zealand passed legislation Wednesday that allows its main intelligence agency to spy on residents and citizens.

It could be argued that the situation in New Zealand is different, since people in the country were made aware of the situation upfront, unlike with PRISM. However, considering that strong, open opposition from rights groups, technology companies and the bar was ignored by New Zealand parliament, the two cases aren’t that different.

There’s also the fact that this law only came around after it was discovered that the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) illegally spied on Megaupload founder Kim Dotcom, leading to a raid of his Auckland mansion as part of a U.S. anti-piracy campaign. Dotcom was given a public apology for the incident because, as a New Zealand resident, he should have been off limits to the GCSB under legislation.

However, the recent bill — which expands the power of the GCSB — will change this. Passing with 61 votes for and 59 against following “impassioned debate,” the decision left many upset — to the point that Prime Minister John Key stated that people were “agitated and alarmed” by it.

"This is not, and never will be, about wholesale spying on New Zealanders," said Key. "There are threats our government needs to protect New Zealanders from, those threats are real and ever-present and we underestimate them at our peril."

Unsurprisingly, Dotcom has been one of the bill’s strongest opponents and has said it gives government spies legal access to New Zealanders’ electronic communications, including mobile phone calls. At a protest meeting last week, he said the passing of the bill would be “the birth of a surveillance state in New Zealand.”

Meanwhile, worldwide tech giants like Google, Facebook and Microsoft (News - Alert) have voiced similar concerns.

Edited by Alisen Downey
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