The Chinese embassy in Wellington has pushed back on reports about a state-linked firm collating data on prominent New Zealanders and their families, defending the company at the centre of the allegations.
It says China “opposes and fights all cyber crimes” and backs the statement from the firm that its clients are research institutions and business groups, not the state or the military.
The news comes as Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters described the situation as “disquieting in the extreme” and says it would be “naive” to believe the Chinese state was not involved.
Zhenhua Data, a Chinese firm linked to the state, has been collecting and collating mostly publicly available data on a wide variety of individuals across the world, a cybersecurity researcher revealed this week.
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The more than 730 Kiwis profiled in the “Overseas Key Individuals Database” include Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s mother Laurell, father Ross and sister Louise; Cabinet ministers; former prime minister Sir John Key’s son Max; and sportswoman Barbara Kendall.
Senior public servants and diplomats, the chief of defence, a former navy intelligence commander, and high-ranking judges are found on the list, obtained by Stuff.
There is no direct evidence this information has been sold to the Chinese government but the firm’s promotional material suggests the Chinese military is its target customer. The firm itself has denied selling the database to the state.
A Chinese Embassy spokesperson referred Stuff to the statement from the firm, which said the original reports around the firm were “seriously untrue”.
“The company said clearly that it’s a private company, and its clients are research institutions and business groups. Instead of collecting data, it only integrates data which is open and available online,” the spokesperson said.
“We would like to stress that as a staunch defender of cybersecurity, China opposes and fights all cyber crimes. We would like to enhance dialogue and co-operation with other countries to jointly build a peaceful, secure, open and cooperative cyber space.”
The spokesperson said China was in proposing more global cooperation on cyber-security, working to stop any country’s “technological edge” being used over another.
“China is ready to enhance co-operation and communication with all sides to reach and abide by global rules that reflect the will and respect the interests of all countries, prevent all practices that use one’s technological edge to undermine other countries’ security, and work with others to jointly safeguard global data security.”
Peters told RNZ on Thursday morning the situation was “disquieting in the extreme” and the firm was likely linked to the Chinese state.
“No-one makes a step of this sort unless it is sanctioned by Beijing,” Peters told RNZ.
“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 to 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.”
The Security Intelligence Service are reviewing the data.
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