[Updated] Whistleblower Edward Snowden has accused New Zealand's Prime Minister John Key of lying to the electorate about the existence of mass surveillance of citizens by the country's main spy agency.
Snowden today revealed in The Intercept that he "routinely came cross the communications of New Zealanders" while working with the US National Security Agency's once secret XKEYSCORE mass surveillance tool, which it shares with the NZ Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB).
The NZ Government is actively concealing the full extent of internal surveillance, he claimed.
He pointed to documents which reveal a specific function in XKEYSCORE called "Five Eyes Defeat", which filters search results from US, UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand out of returns.
"Ask yourself: why do analysts have a checkbox on a top secret system that hides the results of mass surveillance in New Zealand - if there is no mass surveillance in New Zealand?" Snowden wrote.
He claimed the spy agency can see every website a target visits, along with the text messages they send, voice calls made, tickets purchased, and most other online activity.
The only mechanism preventing deeply personal information from being intercepted by the Five-Eyes governments is that single tickbox, he said, but XKEYSCORE does not enforce its use.
"Let me be clear: any statement that mass surveillance is not performed in New Zealand, or that the internet communications are not comprehensively intercepted and monitored, or that this is not intentionally and actively abetted by the GCSB, is categorically false. If you live in New Zealand, you are being watched," he wrote.
Journalist Glenn Greenwald - who is currently in New Zealand as part of a Kim Dotcom-sponsored public meeting - last week claimed that the GCSB is actively recording Kiwis' metadata. This includes tapping the Southern Cross cable between Australia, New Zealand and the United States, Greenwald said today.
Furthermore, he said, the GCSB is passing the information onto the NSA as part of the Five-Eyes intelligence sharing coalition that Australia is also part of.
Key has aggressively denied Greenwald's claims, calling the US journalist a "loser" and Kim Dotcom's "little henchman".
He has argued the allegations are politically motivated and strategically timed to coincide with New Zealand's 20 September general election.
Update 15/09/2014 5:16pm: Hours after defending himself against the Snowden accusations, Key released a trove of hitherto classified GCSB documents which he claims prove that there is no mass surveillance by the GCSB or a cable access programme operating in New Zealand.
However the documents refer to Project CORTEX, which is aimed at scanning for and detecting malware. They do not mention the XKEYSCORE mass surveillance tool, nor the SPEARGUN submarine cable wire tapping project that the Snowden documents detail.
Southern Cross similarly today rubbished Greenwald's claims that its undersea data cables have been tapped as "total nonsense".
Southern Cross chief executive Anthony Briscoe said in a statement that the cables remain untouched.
"I can tell you categorically there is no facility to by the NSA, the GCSB, or anyone else on the Southern Cross cable network," Briscoe said.
Briscoe was part of the original team that built the cable.
Offering "absolute assurances from Southern Cross" as well as himself personally, Briscoe said it was physically impossible for spy agencies to tap into the cable without his company noticing.
There is no way currently to splice an undersea fibre-optic cable without causing a serious outage and sending alarms back to the operator, Briscoe said.
While Southern Cross is compelled by the US Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA) to comply with lawful surveillance requests, Briscoe said that there was no equipment installed in the New Zealand or American landing stations, or on the cable itself, that could be used for mass interception of communications.
Last year, New Zealand passed the Telecommunications Interception Capability and Security (TICS) bill into law which allows the country's law enforcement and spy agencies to compel internet and web service providers to comply with surveillance requests.