Lawmakers renew push for internet cafe regulations

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 12 June, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 12 June, 2010, 12:00am

The government is under pressure to consider introducing a licensing system to regulate internet cafes after lawmakers passed a motion yesterday seeking such a system.

The Legislative Council's home affairs panel said it was unhappy with a review by the Home Affairs Bureau, which decided it was unnecessary to tighten controls over the city's 210 internet cafes.

The bureau said it was difficult to define what an internet cafe was and that the existing voluntary code of practice was sufficient.

Lam Tai-fai, representing the industrial sector, said he was puzzled by the decision. 'I don't understand why, on one hand, you say it is difficult to define the venue, but on the other, you say staff from several departments do regular patrols to Net cafes. Isn't this contradictory?'

Grace Lui Kit-yuk, deputy secretary of the bureau, said borderline cases could prove problematic if a system was introduced. Borderline cases could include a computer centre for the poor run by a community organisation.

She also said that of the 152 crimes associated with internet cafes reported last year, 81 concerned theft, while the others were less serious offences.

Panel members voted unanimously in favour of a motion by Wong Kwok-hing, of the Federation of Trade Unions, calling for the bureau to study a licensing system for internet cafes and lay down a timetable for the plan.

The voluntary code of practice, established in 2003, requires operators to notify the government when starting and closing down their businesses; to bar children under 16 from their premises 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 were no penalties for non-compliance.

The Civic Party's Tanya Chan said the bureau should exempt certain venues, such as charitable computer centres. But, she added, a licensing system should require internet cafes to install computer software that would filter out indecent content.

They should also ensure their electrical systems were not overloaded, as many computers were sometimes connected to just one power point.

Eddy Chen Lung-shing, director of, an internet cafe chain with 28 outlets, said he would welcome a licensing system that helped the industry.

'For example, the system should make it clear whether we are entitled to record visitors' identity card numbers. We do this now as we don't want users doing anything illegal online. But there are privacy concerns,' Chen said.

It would be acceptable to have separate cafes for children and adults, he said, but barring students in uniform would be unfair as some used the cafes to do school work.

Rules of the game

Operators are governed by a voluntary code of practice set out in 2003

The number of internet cafes now operating in the city is: 210