Bid to bar data access in company searches
Members of the public, including the media, will be blocked from viewing key personal information of company directors from next year, the government has proposed.
The move to protect personal privacy came despite opposition among bankers, barristers, journalists and lawmakers that it will hurt transparency and freedom of speech.
The directors' home addresses and full identity card numbers will be withheld in searches on the Companies Registry, according to papers submitted by the Financial Services and the Treasury Bureau to the Legislative Council on Monday.
The changes form part of the new Companies Ordinance, which the bureau says has received Legco approval. It is expected to come into effect early next year, if Legco approves its details this year.
Only limited exceptions will be given - and those are inapplicable to journalists.
The data intended to be protected has played a crucial role in media investigations into the commercial links of key figures in society - local, mainland and overseas - and the confirmation of their identities.
Media organisations have relied on information from the registry to produce news reports, including executive councillor Franklin Lam Fan-keung's property sales last year and Secretary for Development Paul Chan Mo-po's role in the operation of subdivided flats.
"It's counter to the principles of freedom of speech, freedom of the media and transparency," David Webb, founder of corporate-governance website Webb-site.com told Bloomberg.