Corporate governance advocate David Webb last night withdrew his short-lived database listing identity card numbers of 1,100 company directors, just hours after the privacy watchdog launched an investigation.
Webb's "indefinite suspension" of his index came as a former Companies Registry chief joined local professionals in condemning the government's proposal to hide directors' personal information in the registry, currently open to all. Webb has previously claimed his database constituted no breach of privacy law, saying the information - including ID numbers for tycoon Li Ka-shing's sons and Sun Hung Kai Properties chairman Thomas Kwok Ping-kwong - came from public sources. Webb's database - in defiance of the government proposal - was first reported by the South China Morning Post this week, followed by coverage from the local media.
Yesterday, a spokeswoman for the Office of the Privacy Commissioner for Personal Data said misuse of personal data contained in public registers that is not directly related to the original purpose could be a breach of the privacy law.
She said the commissioner's office "does not rule out the possibility of taking further enforcement actions".
She adds that "the act of putting up the names and ID card numbers of others which have been obtained from public registers on the internet for uncontrolled public access is use of personal data that is not directly related to the original purpose of collection". Webb called the commissioner's investigation a dark day for transparency. "For the first time in many years … we feel threatened in our coverage of HK affairs. We regard the investigation by the [commissioner] as wholly misconceived and a threat to the freedom of speech and publication guaranteed by Article 28 of the Basic Law," Webb wrote on Webb-site.com
He said the suspension of his index was to avoid "a protracted legal court challenge ... against the virtually unlimited resources of the government".
Meanwhile, former registrar of companies Gordon Jones has condemned the government's proposal, saying it would turn Hong Kong into a breeding ground for crime and destroy its status as a world-class centre for trade and commerce.
Ultimately, the move to restrict access would lower the standards of corporation management and seriously tarnish Hong Kong's image as an international commercial and financial centre, he wrote in an article for the Hong Kong Economic Journal yesterday.