WELLINGTON (Reuters) - Electronic surveillance by New Zealand's government extends from China, its biggest trading partner, to Antarctica and is shared with the United States and other international allies, according to documents released on Wednesday.
The latest documents released by former U.S. National Security Authority (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden show that New Zealand's spy agency collects data on communications from about 20 nations, including China, Japan, North Korea, Iran, and Antarctica, many of whom are close trade partners.
The intelligence gathered by the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) was passed on to the NSA and intelligence agencies in Australia, Britain and Canada, which along with New Zealand are members of the "Five Eyes" surveillance network, according to the documents dated April 2013.
Published in the New Zealand Herald newspaper and the Intercept website, the papers show that the GCSB's reach extends beyond South Pacific Island nations reported last week, and that the country has ramped up its mass surveillance in past years.
"If it was just ... for New Zealand's sake it's hard to believe we would be running high-tech spying operations against them," investigative writer Nicky Hager, who is collaborating with the media outlets, told TV One.
"The only rational reason why you can say we're doing it is to pay our dues, or pay the cost of being part of the U.S. alliance."
The revelations of surveillance of China, a free-trade partner which brought around 20 percent of New Zealand exports in 2014, and Japan, its No. 4 trading partner, suggest that the country spies on its friends on behalf of the United States.
Documents released on Wednesday include an NSA review of GCSB operations, which state that New Zealand "continues to be especially helpful in its ability to provide NSA ready access to areas and countries ... difficult for the U.S. to access".
New Zealand's intelligence contributions included targeting countries using its satellite interception base in Waihopai and accessing nations' internal communication networks from covert listening posts in the country's embassies and consulates, the papers showed.
The GCSB and the office of Prime Minister John Key declined to comment on the latest revelations, the New Zealand Herald and the Intercept reports said. There was no immediate response when Reuters sought a comment.
The GCSB is banned from spying on New Zealand citizens, unless authorized to support other agencies, but it has no legal restrictions on foreign activities.
Reporting by Naomi Tajitsu