Warning to new MPs: Social media data targeted by 'cyber criminals', 'foreign intelligence'

Parliament is welcoming 40 new MPs after the election and part of their transition to becoming lawmakers is learning how to navigate social media - with a stark warning from parliamentary service.  

The 40 new MPs - nine from ACT, three from Greens, five from National, 22 from Labour and one from Māori Party - are told social media is "great for helping us keep in touch with friends and family" but using it "comes with some risk". 

The advice, handed out to new MPs during their orientation week, says social media is "actively targeted by cyber criminals, journalists and foreign intelligence", and careless use of it can be used to "draw conclusions about your character". 

New MPs are told to "lock down" who can view and access their social media pages by using privacy settings to limit the audience for posts to friends and family who can be trusted.  

"Lock down your friends list so it is hidden from public view," the advice says. "Be careful where you access social media from - internet cafes, airports and hotels put your accounts at greater risk of being hacked."

The advice defines social media as all kinds of online tools used to publish, share and discuss information. It includes social networks like Facebook, professional networks like LinkedIn, micro-blogs like Twitter, image sharing sites like Instagram, as well as YouTube.

MPs are also warned against sharing their whereabouts. The advice says posting location information online can "make it easier for someone targeting you to locate you and make a physical approach" and steps are given to avoid it. 

  • Avoid listing a street addresses or mobile phone numbers.
  • Disable location services on devices used to access social media .
  • Remove geotags from photos which can be stored in an image's background or metadata.
  • Avoid check-in functions that give away a location.
  • Don't  post travel plans on social media to avoid your home being targeted for burglaries.
Part of the advice to new MPs.
Part of the advice to new MPs. Photo credit: Photo / Parliamentary Service

But despite new MPs being advised not to list their phone numbers online, several new Labour MPs have their phone numbers listed on the party website. 

One of them told Newshub new MPs will have their websites and social media pages reviewed and will be given advice on whether their phone numbers should be delisted or if they should be given new phone numbers altogether. 

National's new MPs don't have their phone numbers listed on the party website or on social media. ACT's new MPs don't have their phone numbers listed on the website, but some do have them listed on their Facebook pages. 

The Green Party's new MPs don't have phone numbers listed online - just email addresses. The Māori Party's new MP Rawiri Waititi also does not have his phone number listed online. 

ACT deputy leader Brooke van Velden, a new MP who does not have her number listed on the party website or social media, told Newshub it can be difficult trying to find balance between being open and accessible as an MP and being safe. 

"I get messages from people who have my number and I have no idea how they got it. I think that's just the element of how easily information can be shared. The only thing really is being safe about making sure you're not posting exactly where you are at the time you're posting it."

Van Velden said she agreed with parliamentary service's advice not to post location information. 

"I think that's quite a good move," she said. "As soon as you're in the public eye, you do have to be more watchful about your own safety."

MPs are urged to choose strong passwords for online tools. They're told to use different passwords and usernames for each social media account because if one account is hacked, it will be harder to hack others. 

40 new MPs are joining Parliament in 2020.
40 new MPs are joining Parliament in 2020.

Other online advice to MPs

  • Avoid posting personal information such as date of birth or children's names.
  • Google yourself at home to check you're not giving too much information away.
  • Avoid posting information or images that could be exploited, such as compromising images.
  • Delete social media pages no longer in use.

New MPs are told that if they can master social media, it can be used to their advantage or what's described as "social engineering". 

"Skilled social engineers commonly use social media to identify and approach targets, and many try to gain trust over an extended period of time."

Parliament's class of 2020 are also given information about an app called Safe Hub that provides emergency support which connects them to the Security Operations Team. 

In an emergency, the MP simply presses and holds a 'Red Alert' button which will immediately connect them to the security team. They will have access to real-time GPS location data and the call will be recorded.