Data watchdog opposes Net plan

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 15 November, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 15 November, 2008, 12:00am

Using credit-card numbers to authenticate the age of internet users poses an unnecessary risk to personal data, the privacy watchdog says in a submission to the consultation on the control of obscene materials.

Government proposals to curb access to obscene and indecent materials on the Web would force internet service providers (ISPs) to offer filtering software to subscribers.

They would also create a system that would use credit-card data to authenticate the age of internet users who wanted to enter sites hosted in Hong Kong that contained obscene or indecent materials.

In papers submitted to the Legislative Council's information technology and broadcasting panel, the deputy privacy commissioner for personal data, Bonnie Smith, said it could be argued that credit-card numbers alone were not personal data and that it was uncertain whether the proposal to require internet users to provide their card numbers violated personal-data privacy.

However, she said, the card number a user provided would not allow the ISP to ascertain he or she was an adult unless it consulted its subscribers' database and the card issuer.

Mrs Smith also said a credit-card number was inadequate proof that an internet user was the cardholder, and it did not prove the user was 18 years old. Using credit-card numbers in such a way, she said, posed an unnecessary risk to personal data.

Although the privacy watchdog had no objection to ISPs providing filtering software, independent internet newspaper Inmedia and the Hong Kong Federation of Students said a filtering mechanism might infringe on freedom of expression.

The federation said the free flow of information would be seriously hampered if the government forced ISPs to provide such software.

The Hong Kong Internet Service Providers Association suggested Web users have the choice of whether to install or enable a filtering program.