Police call halt to Net investigation

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 23 May, 1995, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 23 May, 1995, 12:00am

THE seven Internet service providers which were raided by the police in March will not be prosecuted.

The Commercial Crime Bureau (CCB) searched the firms' Hong Kong offices- initially on the grounds that they were operating without a Public Non-Exclusive Telecommunications (PNETS) licence.

But now the companies have been told in a letter from the Commissioner of Police that the case has been dropped.

The letter said that no prosecution or summons would be pursued in the case and that no further action would be taken against any individual or company involved after the CCB received advice from the Legal Department.

The police raids led to about 10,000 people being cut off from the Internet, after officers seized equipment and ordered some of the firms to stop operating until they got a proper licence.

Some of the companies may now be considering legal action against the police.

The decision to drop the case was relayed to the service providers in a letter.

Although no firms have said they have definite plans for legal action, some have indicated they were considering it, and may even take joint action against the police for what one provider branded as an action lacking expertise.

'No one knew why they did it in the first place,' said Philip Wong, director of Asia On-line, one of the providers cut off in the March raids.

'I think it proves one point: that they really didn't know what they were doing.

'They didn't have enough expertise. They were doing something wrong and now they're dropping it.' Leung Sai-man of the Criminal Investigation Division refused to comment on the case and suggestions made by some industry watchers that the letter represented an admission that the police or the Legal Department had made a mistake in raiding the service providers.

From the beginning, the case has been confused. The warrants used by the CCB to raid the seven commercial providers said the suspected crime was operating without the required licence.

After the uproar, the CCB then said the moves were part of an investigation into computer hacking.

In a subsequent Legco special panel meeting in April, the CCB was criticised by Legislator James To.

Mr To even encouraged service providers to take legal action against the Government because the warrants had been issued under false pretences.

Some Internet providers said they felt the pressure resulting from the Legco special panel may have led the CCB to drop the investigation.

'Maybe Legco put a lot of pressure on them,' said Garland Lew, director of Internet On-line Hong Kong.

Mr Wong pointed to Asia On-line's role in speaking out against the raids.

'What we did was create an awareness and we definitely got what we wanted,' he said.

'If we go for legal action it would be a board decision and the board has not met since we got the letter last Friday,' he said.

Mr Lew said the company had no plans to pursue legal action.

'We don't think we are going to pursue it any further. We don't have the time and resources to do it,' he said.

But Mr Wong and Mr Lew left the door open for possible collective action by all, or some, of the affected service providers.

Mr Wong said: 'We have not spoken to all the service providers yet. Once we have spoken to them we may definitely look at that. Never say never.'