New Zealand Parliament Narrowly Passes Controversial Spying Law

New Zealand’s parliament passed a controversial law that will give the nation’s foreign intelligence agency greater spying powers.

Legislation giving the Government Communications & Security Bureau the ability to spy on New Zealanders was passed by 61 votes to 59 in Wellington late yesterday. The law was prompted by revelations that the GCSB illegally spied on Kim Dotcom during a U.S.-led operation to close his Megaupload website on piracy charges last year.

It comes as the U.S. and U.K. governments face accusations of mass cyber surveillance after leaks by former U.S. national security contractor Edward Snowden. Dotcom, an outspoken opponent of the new law, clashed with Prime Minister John Key during a parliamentary hearing on the legislation last month.

The law is “morally indefensible” and would set New Zealand on the same path as the U.S., Dotcom said at the hearing on July 3. “We should avoid blindly following the U.S. into the dark ages of spying abuse.”

Key argues that New Zealand’s Security Intelligence Service can already collect information on citizens, and that the laws governing the GCSB needed to be clarified and brought up to date in a rapidly changing cyber-security environment.

“This isn’t and never has been about wholesale spying on New Zealanders,” Key told parliament yesterday.

Opposition Green Party co-leader Russel Norman said the law is “a fundamental constraint on the freedom of New Zealanders” and its passing marked “a very sad day.”

Electronic Surveillance

The new law allows the GCSB to carry out domestic spying on New Zealanders under certain circumstances, including intercepting phone calls and e-mails and tracking electronic communications. The agency was previously restricted to monitoring “foreign” communications, organizations and people.

While Dotcom was born in Germany as Kim Schmitz, he has New Zealand residency. Key was forced to apologize to Dotcom in September for the GCSB’s surveillance of him, and Dotcom has sued the GCSB for intercepting his communications.

He still faces extradition to the U.S., which has described his cloud-storage Internet site as the biggest copyright infringement case in its history.

Armed police stormed Dotcom’s Auckland mansion in January last year, seizing 18 luxury vehicles, including a 1959 pink Cadillac, art, cash, computers and hard drives.

Dotcom marked the anniversary of the raid this year by unveiling a successor file-storage and sharing site called Mega, which uses encryption code to protect content. He has become a celebrity commentator on Internet freedom.

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