A government department has hired a security firm to train staff in using fake online personas to gather intelligence and build profiles on citizens.
The Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment (MBIE) has signed a contract with Wellington-based ZX Security.
The contract from December 2017 is published on the Ministry's website and outlines the details of the social media training course.
"The service provider will deliver an advanced social media training course to Ministry using false personas on social media for verification and investigation purposes," the contract says.
The contract states ministry staff would be trained to automatically "harvest" material from online platforms and other sources with minimal programming knowledge, identify trends, and spot a fake profile.
They've also been taught how to maintain multiple identities using "techniques for creating a backstop (history) for your online personas", send and receive anonymous text messages and emails, and analyse image metadata for location and other information.
"During this workshop the attendees will use the skills gained during the course to create a detailed dossier on a group or individual," the contract says.
It even includes training on how to identify people based on their usage of language.
The deal with ZX Security expires in 2021 and is worth $112,000 plus GST. The full or advanced classes were estimated at a cost of $6895 per 10 attendees, plus a fixed $840 fee for training outside Wellington.
Last month, a report by the State Services Commission was critical of government agencies' use of a private security firm and urged all government departments to meet strict new standards by the end of April.
The government's duty minister, Iain Lees-Galloway, said the ministry was reviewing the course to make sure it met the new rules.
He said department officials would meet with ministers at the Beehive to explain.
"Before we pass judgment we need to hear directly from MBIE exactly what was going on and what were the purpose(s) of the training.
"What is important for us is that any of these types of activities adhere to those new guidelines - those new guidelines have been set in place because this government does have concerns with prior practices," he said.
Mr Lees-Galloway was not sure if the ministry's staff actually created fake profiles after the training.
Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment has not yet responded.