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New Zealand extends ministerial oversight of spy agencies

WELLINGTON, Oct. 6 Xinhua) -- New Zealand Prime Minister John Key on Monday unveiled change to the government's oversight of its intelligence agencies, following a long-running controversy over allegations of illegal spying.

Key announced he would take on the new role of Minister for National Security and Intelligence while delegating ministerial responsibility for the country's two intelligence agencies -- the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) and the Security Intelligence Service (NZSIS) -- to Attorney-General Christopher Finlayson.

"The ministerial changes I am announcing today will make our structure very similar to that seen in Australia and Great Britain, and further strengthen the governance of what is an absolutely crucial sector for New Zealand," Key said in a statement.

As Minister for National Security and Intelligence, he would be responsible for leading the national security system, including policy settings and the legislative framework.

"I will continue to have regular briefings from the sector's chief executives about the security environment and developments both domestically and internationally," Key said.

Finlayson would operate within the framework Key set and exercise ministerial oversight of the NZSIS and GCSB, including approval of warrants for surveillance.

"Officials have examined models used overseas and what we are adopting is very similar to what is seen with our closest partners, " said Key.

The changes were aimed at strengthening oversight of the agencies.

"In addition to this it is my intention to create a new National Security Committee of Cabinet, which I will chair as prime minister, and with oversight of the intelligence and security sector," Key said.

"Our national security system is well-placed to deal with events and threats in the ever-changing environment we see."

In August last year, the government passed a controversial law to extend the spying powers of the GCSB, the electronic intelligence agency, so it could spy on New Zealand citizens and residents.

The GCSB had been forbidden to spy on citizens and residents, but the government decided to overturn the ban after the agency was found to have illegally spied on more than 80 people.

In the run-up to last month's general election, the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) whistleblower Edward Snowden claimed the NSA had unfettered access to all New Zealand electronic communications, aided by New Zealand's GCSB.

After repeated denials, Key eventually conceded that his government and intelligence agencies had no control over what data the NSA collected from New Zealanders.

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