Watchdog urges data user register

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 28 February, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 28 February, 2008, 12:00am

'People have right to know what's on files'

The privacy commissioner has proposed requiring data users to register with his office and explain why they are collecting information on people.

Appearing at a public forum on privacy yesterday, Roderick Woo Bun said registering would force organisations to be more open and transparent.

Under the Personal Data (Privacy Ordinance) introduced in 1996, the commissioner is empowered to require users of personal data to register. But the provisions have not been put into effect.

'It is high time for me to consider a data user registration scheme. I would say it would be good to introduce such a system as soon as possible,' he said.

Mr Woo said people had a right to know why their personal details were being collected.

When investigating a complaint, privacy officers would be able to refer to the registration information to find out if the data was being used for reasons other than that provided on the registration form.

The commissioner said the Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Bureau was studying this and other proposals from the commissioner. Mr Woo is also recommending it be a criminal offence to obtain, disclose or sell personal data without the consent of the data user.

It is understood the recent scandal over the appearance on the internet of pictures of celebrities naked and, in some cases, having sex means the government will look at the proposals more urgently.

Referring to the saga last week, Mr Woo said there was a 'pressing need' for the government to consider making it a criminal offence to obtain, disclose or sell personal data without consent.

A spokesman for the bureau said Mr Woo was drawing up a more detailed proposal, covering matters such as which data collectors would have to register.

The commissioner said in February last year that he wanted to start such a scheme by the end of last year for users who collected data on more than a million people. He proposed users be liable to a fine of up to HK$10,000 if they refused to comply following repeated warnings.

Earlier this month Mr Woo said he would be disappointed if the bureau did not carry out a public consultation this year on his recommendation to criminalise unauthorised data use.

He said the scheme, which would charge organisations for registration, would also make his office less dependent on the government for funding.

Richard Thomas, information commissioner for the UK, who also spoke at the forum, said a number of recent scandals there involving massive loss of personal data by government departments had led to the introduction of a measure this month requiring all cabinet ministers to report major data losses to him.

Mr Woo said he had been considering the pros and cons of imposing a similar notification requirement, but said it would be too expensive for his office to run.