Internet cafes 'too difficult to define'
Officials have decided not to tighten control over internet cafes - despite complaints about noise, safety and suspected pornography, and warnings about drugs - because they are 'difficult if not impossible to define'.
The Home Affairs Department says a review found the existing voluntary code of practice was working well, although there had been 122 complaints about internet cafes in the past three years.
Without a proper definition, the bureau said, it could not introduce measures any more stringent than the code of practice, such as a licensing system.
'On one hand, if a narrow type of definition is contemplated, the effectiveness of any new regulations would be in doubt,' it said in a briefing for legislators. 'On the other hand, introducing a broad definition for internet computer service centres might also run the risk of catching too many businesses inadvertently, thus restricting business development.'
The Boys' and Girls' Clubs Association of Hong Kong called for a ban on children using internet cafes after midnight after a survey found those who visit regularly were more likely to take drugs.
The association's executive director, Lilian Law Suk-kwan, said the government should separate internet cafes for children and adults and issue different licences for them, as it does with video game centres. 'Net cafes are frequented by older peers who take drugs, or triad members who may influence kids,' she said.
The voluntary code of practice, issued in 2003, requires operators to notify the government when starting and closing down their business; to bar children under 16 after midnight; to filter pornographic, violent or gambling content; to comply with building and fire safety requirements; and to provide noise control and ventilation. There are about 219 Net cafes in the city, according to a police report in December. The bureau said inspections found no serious problems with compliance.
The complaints were mainly related to noise, fire and building safety, and suspected indecent content on websites or in computer games.
Samson Tam Wai-ho, lawmaker representing the information technology sector, said not all operators of internet cafes would oppose more regulations as 'some also want to improve the image of the industry and draw more customers'.
He said he would prefer a licensing system so that operators who were aware of illegal dealings inside their venues but did nothing could have points deducted and eventually their licences suspended.