Follow data lead, privacy watchdog urges

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 14 August, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 14 August, 2010, 12:00am

The privacy commissioner wants the telecommunications and insurance watchdogs to follow the lead of the banking regulator and review the use of customers' personal data.

Speaking a day after the Hong Kong Monetary Authority disclosed results of a survey that found six retail banks had sold the personal details of 600,000 customers to insurance companies, Allan Chiang Yam-wang said he hoped the other regulators would follow suit.

'I want to seek help from the watchdogs of the [telecommunications and insurance] sectors on monitoring customers' personal data transfer and collection,' Chiang said.

The Office of the Telecommunications Authority said it would meet Chiang next week to discuss areas of co-operation on regulating the use of personal data. It issued a circular to all telecom companies yesterday relaying the commissioner's concerns.

The Office of the Commissioner of Insurance said it was studying the advice from the privacy watchdog and would follow it up.

The call from the privacy chief, who started in his new job last week, replacing Roderick Woo Bun, came amid fallout from the row over disclosures that the Octopus card issuer had made HK$44 million selling the data of 1.97 million cardholders.

Chiang said during a media gathering yesterday that in the past two years, the Office of the Privacy Commissioner for Personal Data had completed investigations of 20 complaints about transfer of personal data to third parties without consent in the telecommunication sector, 19 in the banking sector and two in the insurance sector.

He said it was also investigating 12 complaints about banks, five of them involving four banks alleged to have used customers' personal data for direct marketing.

He said that once the investigation and appeal processes ended, his office would disclose details including the names of the banks, according to its standard practice on issues of public interest.

Chiang said companies should consider changing the present 'bundle' consent arrangement, under which customers sign once to consent to all the terms in a contract.

For instance, banks should ask customers to sign separately to consent to having their personal data shared.

'We cannot entirely ban the practice of transferring customers' personal data, which might suffocate usual business practices,' Chiang said, adding that some customers would accept the arrangement if they were told about it.

Chiang said he believed amendments to the privacy law could be finished in the coming legislative year, adding the government had noted huge public concern on the transfer of personal data to third parties without consent for monetary gain,

He also said his office's final report on the Octopus affair should be finished next month. An interim report was released just before Woo left office.

Chiang said he hoped the government would give the office more resources because more complaints were being received and there was the likelihood that in future it would have the power to provide legal assistance to complainants.

In the first half of the year there was a 17 per cent increase in complaints, from 410 to 480, over the same period last year.