New Zealand Security Intelligence Service issues warning over Chinese firm collecting data on politicians

New Zealand's spy agency is looking into a Chinese intelligence database affecting Kiwis after revelations it was tracking politicians and their family members.

It was revealed on Tuesday a Chinese state-linked intelligence firm, Zhenhua Data, had been collecting vast amounts of information with New Zealanders caught in the mix.

Family members of public figures including Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern were thought to be on Zhenhua Data's database.

The revelations have captured the attention of the New Zealand Security Intelligence Service (NZSIS), which is reviewing it for any potential risks and security concerns.

NZSIS Director-General Rebecca Kitteridge said in a statement it's believed the information was drawn from publicly available sources.

"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."

It was revealed the database had profiles for former Prime Minister John Key's son, as well as Ardern's parents and sister, according to entries seen by NZME.

The data listings reportedly included details such as towns of residence, social media account details, and job titles.

Rebecca Kitteridge.
Rebecca Kitteridge. Photo credit: Newshub.

"I understand people may be unaware their information could be gathered up in this way," Kitteridge said.

"This is 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."

Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters said New Zealand's leaders needed to understand what they were dealing with.

"I think it's long-since time that the leadership of this country gave up its level of naivety and understood who they were dealing with and what they were dealing with," he told Magic Talk.

Professor Anne Marie Brady, a Chinese politics expert from the University of Canterbury, said issues like this have not historically been taken seriously by the New Zealand government.

"We've been talking about foreign interference in New Zealand for three years now and the government speaks about it in code language [and] avoids mentioning China," she told Newshub on Wednesday.

The Prime Minister's office earlier said activity of this nature does occur but Ardern wouldn't comment on this particular case. A spokesperson for Ardern told Newshub the Prime Minister doesn't comment on individuals, including those close to her.