Make data leak crime, privacy chief urges

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 20 February, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 20 February, 2008, 12:00am

Celebrity photos saga prompts review call

There is a 'pressing need' for the government to consider making it a criminal offence to obtain, disclose or sell personal data without consent, the privacy commissioner said yesterday.

Roderick Woo Bun said his call was prompted by the leaking on the internet of sexual photographs said to be of celebrities that has scandalised the entertainment world in the past three weeks.

'The incident demonstrates clearly ... that there is a pressing need to actively consider changing the law by the creation of a new offence for knowingly, without the consent of the data user, obtaining or disclosing personal data held or leaked by a data user or the selling of personal data so obtained,' Mr Woo said.

'This can serve as an effective deterrent in sanctioning irresponsible behaviour in handling personal data online.'

He said he had raised the issue with the Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Bureau in December. 'If there is no public consultation in this year [on the reform], I will be very disappointed,' he said.

At present, breaching the Personal Data (Privacy) Ordinance is not an offence automatically. However, the commissioner will serve an enforcement notice to the person if he thinks the contravention is likely to continue after his investigation. The person will commit an offence if he fails to comply with the terms of the notice. The offence could result in a fine of HK$50,000 and two years in jail.

Declining to comment on the nude photo saga, Mr Woo said his office would await the outcome of the police investigation before considering further action.

Brenda Kwok Mei-ling, chief legal counsel of the Office of the Privacy Commissioner, said that if the law was to be revised it would be necessary to consider any exemptions carefully by consulting the public.

'We need to consider the repercussions on society,' she said.

She added that a similar law to protect privacy and personal data had been enacted in 1998 in Britain.

University of Hong Kong assistant professor Eric Cheung Tat-ming supported a review of the ordinance, but warned: 'I feel we should be cautious and avoid introducing harsh legislation just because of some individual incidents. We must not cast the net too wide as to affect civil liberties.'

Meanwhile, Chinese internet search engine was asked by Beijing's internet self-discipline organisation to make a public apology for using the photographs at the centre of the scandal.

The developments came as the number of complaints against a television show on Sunday night featuring Twins singer Gillian Chung Yan-tung - one of the artists implicated in the scandal - rose to more than 2,500.

Of these, more than 1,900 were made to the Broadcasting Authority and 526 to TVB, which aired the charity show. The authority said the show had sparked the most complaints it had received in a single day.