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New Zealand's 2017 election was in Cambridge Analytica's sights, new leak reveals

Documents from the recent New Year's Day Cambridge Analytica leak show New Zealand's 2017 general election was in the company's sights.

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It included the National Party website in a leaked email chain, but the party denies ever being in contact with the disgraced company. Source: 1 NEWS

The data leak included New Zealand and the National Party's website address in reference to countries it could potentially target for global election sales. The National Party has denied any contact by or with Cambridge Analytica. 

Twitter account named Hindsight 2020 began uploading the documents on January 1 from whistleblower and Cambridge Analytica former employee Brittany Kaiser, who was in the Netflix documentary The Great Hack.

In files relating to Brazil, Kenya, Malaysia and Iran, a copy of an email chain labelled "SCL Elections NY Outreach copy 17" mentions the 2017 New Zealand election. 

Source: Getty

The Cambridge Analytica scandal saw an estimated 64,000 New Zealand Facebook users among the 87 million globally who had their data misused or collected in a dishonest way in 2015. 

The information was pulled via a paid personality quiz, which then took data from the users' friends' profiles. Some of the information was used in political campaigns for targeted advertising, such as the Trump US presidential election campaign in 2016. The data issue became public in 2018. 

The most recent leak showed documents from Cambridge Analytica relating to numerous countries.

List compiled of countries with upcoming elections

In an email exchange, Cambridge Analytica's former director of commercial sales Robert Murtfeld compiled a list on October 11, 2015 of countries with upcoming elections.

"Note the list below is merely compiled to have an organizational structure to start collecting embassy and other relevant contacts, whilst working with the 71st session of the UNGA next year... any complete instructions about existing clients and non-targets would be helpful but is not necessary at this stage (just give me a couple of hints)," Mr Murtfeld wrote.  

He lists 76 countries, which included New Zealand. 

In the email chain on October 12, 2015, operations manager Jordanna Zetter replied with countries from the list they "currently have contact with", which did not contain New Zealand but did included 18 others, such as Italy, which included a note that they were "in serious talks" and Mongolia, which said "nearly got the go ahead to begin". 

Ms Zetter wrote that "Alexander also has connections in" Malta, Norway, Sweden, the UK, New Zealand and Australia. 

In July, 2016, Mr Murtfield replied saying he had "done some research on which countries we can target for SCL (Cambridge Analytica's parent company) global elections sales". 

He lists seven countries with a political party contact details. He then wrote, "Loop up also: New Zealand's election in 2017" and added the National Party website. Six other countries, such as Brazil and Malaysia are included in the list. 

National say they've never had contact with Cambridge Analytica

A National Party spokesperson told 1 NEWS Cambridge Analytica "has never been in touch with the National Party, nor have we ever sought to contact them".

Former National MP Steven Joyce, who was the party's 2017 election campaign manager, said neither he or the party was contacted by Cambridge Analytica, nor did they work with them.

Canterbury University professor Anne-Marie Brady said it was concerning Cambridge Analytica had New Zealand "in mind for its global plan for influencing voters and manipulating voters". 

"They were planning things on an industrial scale across a number of countries, so it's particularly concerning they imagined that New Zealand and the National Party would be a customer for them."

Call for change to electoral laws

Professor Brady said major changes were needed around New Zealand's electoral laws. 

"Our political parties are already gathering the funds and starting to campaign for the 2020 election. We need to ask them who they are working with and what are their tactics and we need to ask them to be transparent."

In December, Parliament moved to limit the amount that can be donated to parties from overseas donors, however Professor Brady said New Zealand needed further legislation "and we need it fast". 

"We need to have a look at the issue of political advertising. The laws we have are designed for traditional media but most people these days are getting their information from social media, and it's much easier using social media to disguise who is behind the message."

Also in December, a review launched by the Justice Committee into the 2016 local elections and 2017 general election was released, recommending "that the Government follow the Australian Government in prohibiting foreigners from advertising on social media to influence a New Zealand election outcome and that it provide appropriate constraints and legal obligations on social media platforms so that this can be enforced".

The Electoral Commission did not want to comment on the recent leak. 

In July last year, Facebook was fined US$5 billion by the US Federal Trade Commission for the privacy breach. 

Facebook's profit in the third quarter of 2019 was US$6 billion. 

By Andrew Macfarlane and Anna Whyte