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Neither the GCSB nor a spokesperson for the Embassy of New Zealand in the United States immediately responded to Ars’ request for comment. In June 2013, New Zealand Prime Minister John Key evaded answering whether the GCSB uses or has access to the NSA’s PRISM system.

“I can’t tell you how the United States gather all of their information, what techniques they use, I just simply don’t know,” Key told TV3’s Firstline. “But if the question is do we use the United States or one of our other partners to circumvent New Zealand law then the answer is categorically no. We do exchange—and it’s well known—information with our partners. We do do that. How they gather that information and whether they use techniques or systems like PRISM, I can’t comment on that.”

  • Cyrus Farivar, “New Zealand appears to have used NSA spy network to target Kim Dotcom”

What’s often missing from reporting about whether intelligence agencies are asking five eyes partners to monitor the agencies’ own citizens is this: rarely would a formal request for such monitoring services be required.

You see, folks in the intelligence and security agencies train with one another. They go to international courses together, just like any other group of professionals. And, as anyone who attends professional events knows, informal networks of information sharing arise. In the context of NSA/CSEC/ASIO/GCHQ/etc this can take the form of one government official complaining about the inability to conduct domestic surveillance on X group(s) that are regarded as a problem and then – independent of a ‘formal’ request! – other partners just might collect information on X given that a problem for the complaining agency just might turn into a problem for all the five eyes partners.

As an example: when a CSEC or NSA official complains that domestic extremists could be plotting a terror attack, but that neither CSEC or NSA can legally conduct the surveillance, a partner might be motivated to conduct the surveillance because, you know, terrorism. And, to turn the intelligence into something that’s actionable the foreign service could turn the collected information to CSEC/NSA/agency that is domestically located.

The great thing about this approach is no formal request needs to have been made. Is this as efficient as “Hey, can you guys spy on X so we don’t break our national laws?” No. But it does have the effect of generating favours and goodwill between the very professionals who are often in close contact with one another. And it also lets information be shared without the clear violation of domestic laws that forbid most intelligence services from spying on their own citizens.