New Zealand used NSA data to spy on rival trade leader candidates

New Zealand's Tim Groser

Want to understand why far-reaching, poorly scrutinized spying programs are dangerous? Here's why. The Intercept and the New Zealand Herald have obtained a document showing that New Zealand used the US National Security Agency's XKeyscore surveillance system to spy on other countries' candidates for the World Trade Organization's director general role. The 2013 snooping campaign searched for keywords in communications that referenced New Zealand's own candidate (Minister of Trade Tim Groser, above), the competition and the WTO itself. Any relevant results were passed on to a "trade team" within the country's surveillance agency, the Government Communications Security Bureau, which is rather alarming when the leadership run had nothing to do with national security.

It's not clear what the exact motivations were, and even the WTO is only learning about the spying thanks to the leak. However, The Intercept postulates that New Zealand was worried about who was likely to win the directorship, or trying to cheat by understanding what Groser's rivals were doing. If these or similar theories are accurate (officials aren't commenting), the spying would represent a major abuse of power -- it would have turned large-scale eavesdropping into a political tool.

[Image credit: Roslan Rahman/AFP/Getty Images]