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New Zealand passes controversial spy bill

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New Zealand has passed a controversial cybersecurity bill expanding its intelligence agency’s surveillance authority.

The hotly-debated legislation, titled the Government Communications Security Bureau [GCSB] and Related Legislation Amendment Bill, narrowly passed by a vote of 61 to 59. New Zealand Prime Minister John Key argued that the bill’s main purpose was to clarify the GCSB’s authority, which he said was left largely ambiguous under current law.

Key said in New Zealand parliament Wednesday that the bill did not pave the way for radical surveillance: "Despite ill-informed claims to the contrary, nothing in this legislation allows for wholesale spying on New Zealanders. It actually tightens, not widens, the existing regime.''

One notable portion of the bill expands the GCSB’s cybersecurity authority into the private sector in cases where a particular company’s safety is viewed as important to national interest.

The most controversial section of the amendment, 8C, gives the GCSB the authority to assist domestic law enforcement. The section reads: “This function of the Bureau is to co-operate with, and provide advice and assistance to, the following for the purpose of facilitating the performance of their functions: (a) the New Zealand Police; and (b) the New Zealand Defence Force; and (c)the New Zealand Security Intelligence Service.”

Similar cooperation was revealed by Reuters between the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency and the National Security Agency, whose massive surveillance operations were disclosed earlier this summer by agency contractor Edward Snowden.

The controversy over such collaborations stems from the notion that by wedding massive spy programs with police departments, citizens who ostensibly forfeited their privacy rights for the interest of national security are now vulnerable to prosecution.

Photo by Ronan Crowley/Flickr