Auckland: New Zealand government has said that the collection of information of New Zealanders by a Chinese company could affect national security, adding that it is "disquieting in the extreme" as the information is being sought to persuade a certain outcome in future.
The remarks by the government come in the wake of an investigation which reveals that details of hundreds of New Zealanders - politicians, judges, business leaders, journalists and even criminals - have been collected by Chinese company Zhenhua, which has been linked to the country's military and intelligence.
Multiple news organisations around the world reported on what they described as a widespread surveillance operation by a Chinese company targeting prominent people in multiple countries including India and New Zealand.Zhenhua Data, the reports claimed, put together a database with the personal information of over two million people of public interest -- politicians, celebrities, business leaders, prominent military officials and academics.
"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," Winston Peters said.
"In this case, I think people would be asking why is a country doing it, and what is its ultimate purpose. 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," he added.
The Security Intelligence Service (SIS) is reviewing the data leak for any potential risks and security concerns, but director Rebecca Kitteridge said it seemed the information collected had primarily been drawn from the public domain.
"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 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," Peters further said.
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.
Peters echoed the message. "People should be warned when they go online and engage in social media and divulge their personal information it can be used or misused against them or people close to them or contacts they might have.
"If you look at some of the international events where actors have been involved in manipulating political outcomes and manipulating a stance a country might take with respect to another one, they are very, very serious."