Former National Security Agency systems analyst turned leaker Edward Snowden said Monday that the NSA has set up a facility in the South Pacific nation's largest city to tap into and collect vast amounts of mass surveillance data on New Zealanders through its XKeyscore program, the Associated Press reported.
Speaking from Russia, Snowden talked via video link to hundreds of people at Auckland's Town Hall on Monday night.
Shortly before Snowden spoke, New Zealand Prime Minister John Key issued a statement saying New Zealand's spy agency, the Government Communications Security Bureau, or GCSB, has never undertaken mass surveillance of its own people which could be proven by previously declassified secret documents.
"Regarding XKeyscore, we don't discuss the specific programs the GCSB may or may not use," Key said, declining to discuss the program. "But the GCSB does not collect mass metadata on New Zealanders, therefore it is clearly not contributing such data to anything or anyone."
Snowden, however, claimed that New Zealand agencies did in fact collect information for the NSA and get access to it later on, further accusing Key of carefully parsing his words and avoiding the main issue by not talking about the program, Townhall reported.
"There are actually NSA facilities in New Zealand that the GCSB is aware of and that means the prime minister is aware of," Snowden said. "And one of them is in Auckland."
"To this day, he's said I won't talk about this. I won't talk about this because it's related to foreign intelligence," Snowden said. "But is it related to foreign intelligence if it's collecting the communications of every man, woman and child in the country of New Zealand?"
The event, organized by indicted Internet entrepreneur Kim Dotcom, who is fighting U.S. attempts to extradite him on racketeering charges over his now-shuttered file-sharing site Megaupload, also featured speeches from American journalist Glenn Greenwald and WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange via video links from London.
"Greenwald produced NSA slides that he said showed the GCSB had taken steps to engage in mass surveillance through a program called Project Speargun," according to the AP.
But Key said the program was rejected, and instead an alternative program was adopted for organizations to opt into. "Put simply, it never happened," Key said.
Meanwhile, the Town Hall event was held five days before New Zealand's general election.