As debate rages in the United States over the limits put on government spying, New Zealand legislators have moved to clarify what is and isn't legal for one of its own intelligence agencies. According to The New Zealand Herald, the country passed a law today that will give its Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) increased power to spy on New Zealand citizens' communications. The GCSB will still require a warrant when doing so, but such spying will now be explicitly legal in the first place.

The law is a response to spying on Kim Dotcom

The questionable legality of certain surveillance activities by the GCSB has been a major hiccup of late for the country. Last year, New Zealand's prime minister, John Key, ended up apologizing to Megaupload founder Kim Dotcom after it was revealed that the bureau had illegally monitored him. The new legislation was apparently built around addressing similar issues.

The GCSB was previously barred from any domestic surveillance of the country's citizens, be it the contents of their communications or just their metadata, reports the Herald. But the bureau had reportedly begun performing domestic surveillance anyway, citing that it was legally allowed to assist other law enforcement agencies. While surveillance of communications is now allowed with a warrant, the GCSB will still remain barred from spying on New Zealanders within the country while gathering foreign intelligence.

Despite the explicit call for warrants, concerns have risen that the new law is broadly authorizing domestic surveillance. According to the Herald, Key defended against the accusations, saying, "Nothing in this legislation allows for wholesale spying on New Zealanders." Key maintains that the law actually "tightens" the bureau's powers, and chalks the legislation up to simple legal clarifications. He reportedly told parliament, "This essential legislation makes it clear what the GCSB may and may not do."