New Zealand’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Winston Peters has said the collection of information on New Zealanders by Chinese company Zhenhua could adversely affect national security.
Details of hundreds of New Zealanders – politicians, judges, business leaders, journalists and even criminals – have been collected by Zhenhua, which has been linked to the country’s military and intelligence.
Peters said it would be “naive” to think there was no connection with the Chinese state. “The part that is of concern is, what is the purpose in this case of this collection of data. I know why big businesses do it – it is to shape their market it is to look at influencers and all sorts of things. In this case, I think people would be asking why is a country doing it, and what is its ultimate purpose,” he said.
“If you look at the big picture, and put aside the players here, of course it has an influence on national security. And of course, it will reflect on those who are most susceptible, naive or otherwise, to selling the interests of the country down the drain. That’s what it’s always been about,” he added.
Asked if the data collection was being done at behest of Chinese state, Peters said it was “naive to think otherwise”.
“There is not a level of disconnect or independence between the two systems. No one makes a step of this sort unless it is sanctioned by Beijing, he said adding, this also happened in other countries, and with big business.
“It is very disquieting in the extreme that the collection of information is being sought, not for what you might call a marketing purpose or to sell product, but the purpose is perhaps to find information that can be used in a future time to persuade a certain outcome from individuals associated with the person that has been the source of the information collection,” he said.
The Security Intelligence Service (SIS) in New Zealand is reviewing the data leak for any potential risks and security concerns, however, director Rebecca Kitteridge said it seemed the information collected had primarily been drawn from the public domain.
Kitteridge said the leak was a timely reminder for people to check their security settings and consider the amount of information they share on the internet.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the data leak, which includes the names of her mother, father and sister, highlighted the need for vigilance on cybersecurity.
Technology commentator Paul Brislen said the data collection was more like “business as usual” in “building a dossier on people you might want to talk to or engage with at some point, using publicly available sources”.