WELLINGTON, July 29 (Xinhua) -- Defence Minister Jonathan Coleman on Monday ordered the New Zealand military to review its defense orders after it was revealed that the New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) regarded the country's investigative journalists as a subversion "threat".
Coleman also responded to a report that the NZDF was spying on a New Zealand investigative journalist in Afghanistan, saying he would be "most concerned" if it had happened.
However, the move seemed unlikely to quell growing public concern over activities of the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB), the country's foreign spying agency, and government proposals to expand its surveillance powers over New Zealanders.
The report in the Sunday Star-Times alleged that the NZDF had obtained copies of journalist Jon Stephenson's phone metadata in Afghanistan after he had written unfavorably about the treatment of Afghan prisoners by New Zealand forces.
"I have seen no evidence to support these claims at this point. However, the Defence Force is carrying out extensive record checks to see if there is any evidence that this occurred," Coleman said in a statement.
Coleman said the order that listed investigative journalists as subversion threats alongside hostile intelligence services and members of subversive organizations was issued back in 2003.
"My view is that the reference to investigative journalists should be removed from this order. It is inappropriate and heavy handed," he said.
"I have asked the Defence Force to review these particular orders to ensure they are fit for purpose. A review is timely given that these orders are now a decade old."
Prime Minister John Key, who is also Minister Responsible for the GCSB, has denied the GCSB was involved in spying on Stephenson at the request of the NZDF.
However, the opposition Green Party said Monday that Key still had questions to answer as to whether the NZDF had possibly obtained access to Stephenson's phone records from the U.S. National Security Agency through the Prism intelligence network.
"If this in fact was the case, then it strongly suggests that our fears around Prism were correct that data held on New Zealanders by the U.S. National Security Agency via the Prism system could be passed back to the New Zealand government," Green Party co-leader Russel Norman said in a statement.
The controversy comes after thousands of New Zealanders protested at the weekend against Key's proposed GCSB and Related Legislation Amendment Bill.
The GCSB is forbidden to spy on New Zealand citizens and residents, but the government wants to overturn this ban after the agency was caught illegally spying on the communications of German Internet mogul Kim Dotcom.
The founder of file-sharing site Megaupload, Dotcom had his Auckland home raided by police in January last year at the behest of United States law enforcement agencies, who are seeking his extradition on Internet piracy, money-laundering and racketeering charges.
A subsequent government report found the GCSB might have illegally spied on more than 80 people.
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