There’s been mixed reactions from Kiwis, who’ve found out they’re among more than two million people being tracked by a Chinese intelligence firm.
Retirement Commissioner Jane Wrightson told 1 NEWS, “I have to say I was a bit perplexed, but I do think it’s quite funny”.
“My thoughts about retirement are deeply sensitive, of course,” she added in jest.
She’s one of at least 790 New Zealanders whose personal details are on file in Shenzhen, South Eastern China.
Zhenhua data is believed to be the company behind the mammoth database.
“It's parent body is state owned enterprise, which is part of the military industrial complex in China”, said Professor Anne-Marie Brady, a specialist on China's domestic and foreign policy at the University of Canterbury.
Our spy agency this afternoon announced it’s looking into the information related to New Zealand, which was leaked to an American economics professor.
Director-General of Security, Rebecca Kitteridge said, “The New Zealand Security Intelligence Service is reviewing it for any potential risks and security concerns. New Zealanders form a small part of the dataset, which includes information on a very large number of people from a range of different countries and backgrounds.”
“While we are still assessing the information, at this stage we believe the information is primarily drawn from publicly accessible sources such as social media and news reporting.
“We know that different organisations compile information of this nature from publicly accessible sources for a range of purposes, ranging from private companies wanting to carry out marketing or research at one end of the spectrum, through to governments seeking to influence public discussion or gather intelligence in other countries at the other,” said Kitteridge.
Other New Zealanders joining Wrightson on the index are the Prime Minister's parents, former Olympian Barbara Kendall and Sir John Key’s son Max Key.
Our chief censor is named too.
In a statement David Shanks told 1 NEWS, “It is increasingly obvious that knowledge is power in the digital age. The existence of this database is just another signpost to that fact.
“It is concerning enough that this database was seemingly compiled to support Chinese national interests, but my guess is that there will be many other similar databases compiled not just by China but by other state and corporate actors, for all kinds of purposes.”
Former Solicitor-General Michael Heron QC, isn’t worried that he features, saying, “someone must have too much time on their hands”.
Wrightson said, “my own guess is that it’s random harvesting, of data, and that explains the particularly wide range of names and why you know, relatively small people like me are on it."
Brady said, “The point of the dataset is to identify, politically prominent people in each society, and their family members and also on this list is serious criminals, to gather information about them and the next step would be to target them for efforts to build asset relations, potentially to blackmail them”.
She also says the list that’s been leaked is a “snapshot”, as the dataset is not complete.
Foreign Minister Winston Peters said, “I'm not going to over react to it other than to say we are aware of it and we cognisant of it and we will not accept an interference in our country of that kind, if that is what it's intention is.
“I don't care what they've got on me, but I do care when families can be manipulated … and whether the objective would, what we would call in our law, a simple evil purpose," he said.
The New Zealand Security Intelligence Service says it’s a “timely reminder to everyone to check the security settings on their social media accounts and review the amount of information they are sharing on the internet”.
Brady says it’s also a reminder we need to change our policies and advice around dealing with China.