Hong Kong authorities see data release as threat, says UK academic
Simon Parry and Hazel Knowles
Despite a global trend towards greater freedom of information, data is still seen as a threat rather than an opportunity in Hong Kong, according to a visiting academic from the London School of Economics
Jens Kandt, who has worked at the University of Hong Kong's Centre for Suicide Research and Prevention since last year, said there was a gulf in attitudes towards privacy between officials in Britain and Hong Kong.
"In the UK there is now a presumption of openness - a belief that all the data routinely collected by the government should be made available to the public," he said. "The attitude is that the taxpayer pays for the activity and the data is the output of this activity, so it should be part of what the government produces and part of the service the government delivers."
There had been a major push towards greater freedom of information in Britain and other countries in the past three years that had seen a great deal more data released publicly since 2009, he said.
"It allows us to do a fairly high level of analysis and investigation without asking anyone for access to information," said Kandt, who specialises in quantitative geographic analysis of cities.
"That has had a massive impact on research."
Hong Kong officials, by contrast, had a "very different attitude to data", he said. "Data is seen as a threat rather than an opportunity to improve things or understand why certain things work - why certain burdens of disease may be more prevalent in some areas rather than others, for instance."
"In Hong Kong, the threat is being seen and the opportunities are being overlooked."
Freedom of information was important not only so social needs could be met, but also so that the government could be made properly accountable to the people, he argued.
"In a democracy, the government is there for the people and should act on their behalf," he said. "The more informed people are, the more they can tell a government what it should do, and that's the way it should be in a democracy."