New Zealand's spy agencies say they are aware that foreign states are attempting to covertly monitor or influence expatriates living here.

NZ Security Intelligence Service (SIS) director-general Rebecca Kitteridge says her agency is also concerned by activities by state actors over political donations.

Kitteridge appeared alongside Government Security Communications Bureau (GCSB) director-general Andrew Hampton before a committee of MPs inquiring into the 2017 general election and local body elections.

Such an inquiry is usual following the elections.


Kitteridge said interference in New Zealand's elections was, and remains plausible.
She cited a document released by the Canadian Government last week which noted that in 2018, half of all advanced democracies holding national elections had the democratic process targeted by cyber-threat activity – a threefold increase since 2015.

"Many states retain at least a latent ability to conduct foreign interference activities in New Zealand," she said.

"Motivated state actors will work assiduously over many years, including in New Zealand, to covertly garner influence, access and leverage."

The manipulation of expatriate communities was a risk.

"NZSIS is aware of efforts by foreign states to covertly monitor or obtain influence over expatriate communities in New Zealand. Shared culture, language or familial connections can facilitate this," she said.

Kitteridge said the SIS became concerned when aspects of political donations were obscured or channelled in a way that prevented scrutiny of its origin.

"One of the main reasons we become concerned about these activities is because as relationships of influence, or a sense of reciprocity is established, they may be used as leverage to facilitate future interference or espionage activity.

"In broad terms, I can say that we have seen activities by state actors that concern us," Kitteridge said.


Hampton also registered the GCSB's ongoing concern over the security implications of online voting for local body elections.

"Manual voting is much less susceptible to compromise and the administrators of local elections do not have the experience or support that the Electoral Commission does, including from my agency," he told the committee.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said New Zealand was not immune from foreign interference and she agreed it was not confined to election time.

"Foreign interference takes many forms. That's why we need to make sure we're vigilant across a wide range of areas and it's not just about electoral law," Ardern told reporters in Wellington today.

A complaint by former National MP Jami-Lee Ross about $100,000 donated to the National Party has been referred by police to the Serious Fraud Office.

Ross, who quit and was kicked out of the National caucus last year, lodged a complaint with police about what he alleged was a $100,000 donation to the National Party from a Chinese businessman that was then split into smaller amounts to hide it.

National leader Simon Bridges and the National Party hierarchy have said the donation was made up of eight separate donations from different donors.