15 Sep 2020

NZ academic's info in huge leak of data from firm linked to Chinese intelligence

8:33 pm on 15 September 2020

The foreign affairs minister is seeking more details about a huge leak of data amassed by a company believed to be used by China's intelligence service.

Anne-Marie Brady

Canterbury professor Anne-Marie Brady Photo: RNZ / Jane Patterson

The information was initially leaked from Zhenhua Data, a company based in the southern China city of Shenzhen, to American academic Christopher Balding.

Politicians, their families and defence officials are included in a list identifying almost 800 New Zealanders. Canterbury University professor Anne-Marie Brady - who specialises in political interference from China - said her details featured in the leak.

Winston Peters in Wairoa during his 2020 election campaigning. 14 September 2020

Winston Peters Photo: RNZ / Simon Rogers

Winston Peters said he has had a briefing from foreign affairs officials, but could not say much more about it.

"Privacy seriously matters and this is a privacy issue and I can't say much more about that. But privacy in our society and our history and democracy is critical."

Brady said only 10 percent of the details of 2.4 million people worldwide are recoverable from the leaked database.

She told RNZ that researchers showed her an incomplete file with some of her details.

"This is part of the Chinese government's overall collection approach, try to build up asset relationships from the political and economic leads. So you first have to have data on them to be able to develop those relationship and identify vulnerabilities," Brady said.

She said the data could be used to blackmail the people involved or find out their views on the Chinese government, and "to nurture and cultivate them".

The Shenzhen company is believed to be owned by China Zhenhua Electronics Group, which in turn is owned by a state-owned enterprise called China Electronic Information Industry Group (CETC), meaning "it's part of the military industrial complex in China", according to Brady.

"There's connection, very much since 2015. [The Chinese president] Xi [Jinping's] government has been promoting this idea of this civil-military fusion, so using what are extensively private-sector companies, in fact you can trace back the connections to engage in military-related research and acquisition of military technology."

Brady said she was working with scholars from other countries to identify any patterns in the data.

A spokesperson for Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said activity of this nature does occur, but she wouldn't comment on this particular case.

As is standard, the spokesperson said Ardern doesn't comment on individuals, including those close to her.

*This story's body and headline has been updated to clarify that professor Anne-Marie Brady was not on the list of 793 New Zealanders, but rather her details were in the database leak.


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