Internet raids - CCB was wrong

PUBLISHED : Friday, 10 March, 1995, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 10 March, 1995, 12:00am

LAST Friday's raid on seven Internet service providers by the Commercial Crime Bureau (CCB), left me angry and worried.

Being one of those suddenly kicked off the information highway, I have been tracking every Internet-related issue appearing in the press.

It has been reported that investigations were still being processed by the Office of the Telecommunications Authority (OFTA), concerning the licensing of the existing unlicensed service providers.

It was confirmed by OFTA that a number of the providers had been working closely with it and these providers were never warned that there was any threat to their unlicensed businesses. However, the sudden raid cut off all Internet access in Hong Kong except for the only licensed provider, the Hong Kong Supernet.

I was astonished by the two naive reasons the CCB officers gave for carrying out the raids.

One CCB spokesman said the unlicensed service providers had been involved in computer hacking, which revealed that spokesman's ignorance.

Explaining Internet would require writing a full-length book. However, let me assure readers that a computer hacker could break into a computer system, regardless of which service provider he was connected to. It was simply wrong to shut down innocent providers in this way. Would the CCB have taken the same measures if it was found that hackers were related to an academic institution.

Would the CCB have closed down the University of Hong Kong, for example, just to mount an investigation? If the CCB police officers do not possess the professional knowledge to trace the anonymous hackers, they should admit this and hire computer experts to perform this task.

Another CCB officer said that the unlicensed operation of the service providers - which the CCB considered to be 'illegal' - was the reason for the raid. However, OFTA emphasised that it was not on its initiative, that the police action was taken. Close attention should be paid to this point. The CCB usurped the role of OFTA which should be the official authority. It is up to OFTA to define the grey areas with regard to the Internet providers issue.

The CCB officers showed themselves to be novices when it comes to Internet. They should have consulted Internet experts beforehand. Clearly, they had no idea of the damage they were going to cause to the reputation of the Hong Kong Internet community, as a consequence of last Friday's raid.

The CCB should give us a detailed explanation for its actions and apologise to the Internet community, which is a major means of communication for many members of the commercial sector.

ANTHONY CHEUNG Pokfulam YOUR editorial on March 8, on the subject of the Internet raids, was spot-on.

Under s.8(1)(a) of the Telecommunications Ordinance, it is illegal to maintain a means of telecommunication without a licence. There are two possible interpretations of this provision in relation to Internet providers. One is that the 'means of telecommunication' is provided by the fixed line telephone network, and not by any computers, modems, fax machines, telephone handsets or television receivers that may be connected to it.

The Internet service providers all use regular telephone lines provided by Hongkong Telecom.

On the narrow interpretation of s.8(1)(a) only Hongkong Telecom is required to be licensed, not the service providers. They merely use the 'means of telecommunication' provided by Hongkong Telecom.

The wider interpretation, adopted by the CCB, is that computers, modems, fax machines and any commercial services which use them are 'means of telecommunication', and as such require a licence unless otherwise exempted under the ordinance.

Over the years, the Government has sometimes applied the narrow interpretation, and sometimes the wider interpretation. It appears the wider interpretation is now in favour. But even if the wider interpretation is legally correct, the CCB raids were horribly misconceived. There was absolutely no need for such a forceful response.

The unlicensed Internet providers were all using regular telephone lines provided to them by Hongkong Telecom. They had subscription customers. This is not the kind of business that can pack up its goods on a barrow and flee when it sees the police coming.

By all means prosecute alleged offenders, and allow them to have their day in court to make their case on the proper interpretation of the law. But to resort to raids, arrests and equipment seizure in such circumstances is a terrifyingly excessive and unnecessary use of police power.



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