TIME New Zealand

New Zealand Set to Vote in General Elections Marred by Cybercontroversies

Journalist and author Glenn Greenwald, left, and Kim Dotcom attend a political forum at Town Hall in Auckland, New Zealand Monday, Sept. 15, 2014.
Journalist and author Glenn Greenwald, left, and Kim Dotcom attend a political forum at in Auckland on Sept. 15, 2014 Brett Phibbs—New Zealand Herald/AP

Is the Kiwi nation becoming a bastion of Internet-generation politics?

The climate enveloping New Zealand’s parliamentary elections on Saturday could be branded anything but politics as usual.

The vote marks an end to a campaign season marred by covert Internet bullying, revelations by hackers, and that could see Kim Dotcom, a cyberoutlaw wanted by the FBI, voted into the House of Representatives.

Not even two months ago, incumbent Prime Minister John Key looked set for a comfortable third victory, but then a book release upset the remote island nation’s political equilibrium. In Dirty Politics, investigative journalist Nicky Hager revealed how top members of Key’s cabinet had spread personal information about their opponents to a vitriolic right-wing blogger. Whale Oil, as the blogger is known, then went on to fuel online hatred directed at certain public servants, some of whom ended up receiving death threats from Internet commenters.

Hager claims that the material exposes “the covert attack machine run by the National Party and its allies,” the Guardian reports, and his oeuvre has completely taken over New Zealand’s political discussion ever since. Even though Key was not directly implicated, he’s been widely berated for his feeble response, having deferred sacking those central to the scandal and denouncing Hager as a “screaming left-wing conspiracy theorist.”

Key also lashed out at the fact that Hager’s information was based on personal electronic communications allegedly retrieved by illicit means. “I think there’s a real risk that a hacker, and people with a left-wing agenda, are trying to take an election off New Zealanders,” he said.

That may not necessarily be the case, since Key and his National Party are still looking robust in the polls. Still, there’s a certain sense of the Kiwi elections are taking the shape of a cyberelectoral soap opera.

In the opposite corner stands the 6-ft. 7-in. figure of Kim Dotcom, who made a fortune from his file-sharing website Megaupload, but also drew the ire of the collective Hollywood community and FBI, who wanted him held accountable for infringing on copyright laws. After leading a lavish playboy lifestyle and being the subject of a dramatic 2012 police raid on his estate, German-born Dotcom has turned to politics. The 40-year-old has proclaimed that his Internet Party is the beginning of a global youth movement fighting for expanded freedom and privacy on the web. He is contesting the elections together with the Maori left-wing Mana party, and they look likely to win seats in parliament. Dotcom has also managed to attract international attention to his cause.

On Monday, Dotcom shared an Auckland stage with three other prime U.S. security targets — Glenn Greenwald, Julian Assange and Edward Snowden (the latter two via video link) — for a political forum named “Moment of Truth,” where the trio outlined how Key’s government had worked to implement a mass-surveillance program on its citizens.

Some have tried to downplay both the book release and the forum as spruiking, seeing as both took place so close to the vote. Whale Oil, whose real name is Cameron Slater, is even claiming that Hager’s source is none other than Dotcom himself. However, Hager says he would have “run a mile” if Dotcom had approached him with the leaked material.

“When a source is anonymous, like this person is, it’s possible to imagine all sorts of creepy things about them,” Hager told the Guardian. “But it is an intelligent, thoughtful person, I’m pleased to say — a nonpartisan person who I’m very comfortable working with.”

To date, Dirty Politics is Hager’s best-selling book. It remains to be seen what impact it will have on the elections, and to what extent New Zealand is turning into a bastion of politics for the Internet generation.

More than 3 million registered voters will elect 120 members to New Zealand’s House of Representatives on Saturday, with lawmakers chosen from 71 single-member constituencies and the remainder from party lists.

TIME New Zealand

Snowden: NSA Collected Data on New Zealand Citizens

Edward Snowden Julian Assange Kim Dotcom Moment of Truth
Edward Snowden, Julian Assange, Internet Party leader Laila Harre, Robert Amsterdam, Glenn Greenwald and Kim Dotcom discuss the revelations about New Zealand's mass surveillance at Auckland Town Hall in Auckland, New Zealand on Sept. 15, 2014. Hannah Peters—Getty Images

New Zealand prime minister denies his government helped U.S. collect data on private citizens by gaining access to undersea cables

Documents released by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden purport to show U.S. and New Zealand officials have collected Internet data via underwater cables that connect New Zealand, Australia and North America.

The documents, reported by The Intercept and the Sydney Morning Herald, are said to show the program, called “Speargun,” had initially been implemented in 2012 or early 2013 by the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) of New Zealand.

The GCSB was alleged to have gained covert access to a Trans-Pacific undersea cable network through which data is transmitted between Australia, New Zealand, Fiji and Hawaii, to allow the NSA to harvest data.

Prime Minister of New Zealand John Key denies that the GCSB has participated in mass surveillance of citizens, though he reportedly would not discuss the existence of the program New Zealand reportedly used to conduct surveillance.

Snowden said in an interview with The Intercept website, which first reported the program’s existence, that the Prime Minister was fully aware of the program. “The Prime Minister’s claim to the public, that ‘there is no and there never has been any mass surveillance’, is false,” Snowden said. “The GCSB, whose operations he is responsible for, is directly involved in the untargeted, bulk interception and algorithmic analysis of private communications sent via internet, satellite, radio, and phone networks.”

[Sydney Morning Herald]

TIME Japan

Japan Is Planning to Resume Whale Hunts

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe Visits New Zealand
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe speaks to the media after a traditional Maori welcome at Government House and talks with New Zealand Prime Minister John Key on July 7, 2014, in Auckland. Fiona Goodall—Getty Images

Trade talks turned to whale rights in New Zealand as Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe touted a revival of his nation's "scientific" whaling program

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told his New Zealand counterpart, John Key, during trade talks in Auckland that Japan intends to resume whaling in the Southern Ocean.

Key said he was told of Tokyo’s plans to build a scientific whaling program that is in line with the International Court of Justice’s recent guidelines, but made his position clear that all whale hunting should cease, reports the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. “New Zealand’s view is there is no place for whaling, scientific or otherwise,” said Key.

In March, Australia and New Zealand won a legal case against Japan’s government-subsidized whaling program in Antarctica. The court found that the scheme was carried out predominantly for commercial purposes, instead of scientific research as claimed.

Abe dodged reporters’ questions on whether or not Japan will resume whaling. “We will abide by the verdict of the International Court of Justice, but in any case there are different positions in regard to whaling,” he said.

[Australian Broadcasting Corporation]

TIME royals

A Prince George Photo Album: See the Royal Baby Grow Up

The newest and arguably cutest — sorry, Prince Harry — member of the British royal family continues to attract attention wherever he toddles.

TIME animals

The Kiwi, New Zealand’s National Bird, Isn’t From Australia After All

A keeper holds in his hands two Kiwi chi
A keeper holds in his hands two Kiwi chicks at the zoo on June 19, 2012 in Berlin. Johannes Eisele—AFP/Getty Images

The kiwi is not related to the emu, as scientists originally believed

The kiwi, a bird endemic to New Zealand, was long believed to be an Australian import. However, new research published Thursday in the journal Science found that the kiwi’s origins aren’t so simple.

Researchers at the University of Adelaide’s Australian Centre for Ancient DNA discovered that the kiwi is not closely related to Australia’s Emu as previously thought. Rather, its closest relative is the Madagascan elephant bird. DNA extracted from the bones of two elephant birds at the Museum of New Zealand, Te Papa Tongarewa, revealed a genetic connection between the elephant bird and the kiwi despite their physical and geographical dissimilarities.

Scientists say that the connection between the two also means that the kiwi, now a flightless bird, once took to the skies.

“This result was about as unexpected as you could get,” Kieren Mitchell, PhD candidate with ACAD, said in a statement. “New Zealand and Madagascar were only ever distantly physically joined via Antarctica and Australia, so this result shows the ratites (a group of flightless birds) must have dispersed around the world by flight.”

TIME royals

Here’s Kate Middleton and Prince William Cuddling Some Puppies

From left: Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, hold police dog puppies at the Royal New Zealand Police College in Wellington, New Zealand, on April 16, 2014.
From left: Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, hold police dog puppies at the Royal New Zealand Police College in Wellington, New Zealand, on April 16, 2014. Mark Mitchell—EPA

But baby George missed out

For the first time ever, a picture was taken of Kate Middleton and nobody cared what she was wearing. But that’s only because some very tiny German shepherds were in the picture, too.

The royal couple concluded their New Zealand trip with a visit to the Royal New Zealand Police College in Wellington, where they met some very brave future police puppies. William looked very involved in making sure his puppy was comfortable while Kate dealt with a mid photo-op puppy yawn.

Life’s hard when you’re a royal.

Kate and William have already landed in Sydney for the remainder of their trip down under.

But there’s still one remaining question: Will family dog Lupo be jealous?

TIME New Zealand

VIDEO: William and Kate Quash Baby No. 2 Rumors With Wine Tasting

Prince George won't be having a younger brother or sister... yet.

It seems like Prince George, who made headlines with his first group playdate last week, will have a little more time before he has to share the spotlight with a younger sibling.

Any rumors that Prince William and the Duchess of Cambridge were expecting a second child were quashed Sunday when the couple made a visit to a New Zealand vineyard, and Kate enjoyed a glass of wine.

TIME royals

Here’s What Prince George Was Really Thinking During That Playdate

Twitter's child-rearing guru on this week's royal infant hobnobbing

Prince George, King of Infants, is being celebrated worldwide for successfully completing his first playdate. Official photos of the event were released by the palace this week — as were the other children once they promised to say only nice things about him. Sadly, no toddlers were invited to this event, as their ability to walk and talk would have probably upstaged Newborn Baby Prince George.

One of the mothers in attendance gave a statement to U.K. newspaper, The Mirror: “Different children develop differently, but George is very advanced for his age. He was crawling and wanting to walk in an advanced way — more so than my son, who is younger than him.”

Wow. Way to throw your own kid under the bus for palace brownie points. You forgot to mention that Prince George was far more attractive than the rat-faced gremlin you are ashamed to call your flesh and blood.

The Express reported that Prince George “made a little girl called Paige Stevens cry after taking a wooden doll from her.” Suck it up, Paige. He has an army at his disposal and could have taken the house you live in if he wanted, so count your blessings.”

A witness told The Daily Mail that Prince George was quite “the bruiser,” which the palace quickly brushed off by saying that he “is currently teething.” Nice try, George, but we’re all teething.

Honest Toddler’s first book The Honest Toddler: A Child Guide to Parenting (Simon & Schuster) comes out April 22, 2014.

TIME

Baby Prince George’s First Royal Duty: An Adorable Playdate

For Queen and country, baby Prince George made the sacrifice of having fun.

The little prince’s first royal duty was a playdate with ten families selected to represent the diverse communities of New Zealand. Plunkett’s Parents Group, an organization that provides healthcare and support for new parents, arranged the Government House get-together. They chose George’s playmates from a variety of backgrounds including Maoris, Samoans and gay couples.

The 8-month-old prince is growing up fast. Not only has he begun to serve his patriotic duty, but the Duchess of Cambridge says that George has been sleeping through the night and eating solid foods. Later he will wear the crown, but for now, Prince George is content to simply play.

TIME Kim Dotcom

MegaUpload’s Kim Dotcom Launches a Political Party in New Zealand

An actor in police costume mock-arrests Megaupload founder Kim Dotcom, left, as he launches his new file sharing site "Mega" in Auckland Jan. 20, 2013. Nigel Marple—Reuters

The German-Finnish entrepreneur is also fighting extradition to the U.S. where he faces piracy charges

Controversial Internet mogul Kim Dotcom has launched a political party in New Zealand ahead of general elections in September.

The Internet Party would serve as a “movement for the freedom of the internet and technology, for privacy and political reform,” says the 40-year-old, according to the BBC.

Dotcom is currently fighting extradition to the U.S. where he faces charges of gross copyright infringement. Prosecutors allege his MegaUpload website facilitated the fraudulent downloading of pirated movies, games and TV programs worth some $175 million. The website was shut down in 2012 and Dotcom denies any wrongdoing.

If elected to parliament, which requires winning a seat outright or 5% of the national vote, the German-Finnish entrepreneur has vowed to “give you faster, cheaper internet, create high-tech jobs, protect your privacy and safeguard our independence.”

[BBC]

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