Online forum likened to mainland China as it demands ID card copy for registration

New rule at Golden Forum likened to mainland requirement for 'real-name registration'

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 28 August, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 28 August, 2013, 11:06am

Golden Forum is the most outspoken online discussion site in town, with a knack for digging up dirt. Or, at least, it was …

Often the 605,000 members do not use their real identities to sign up, but a new rule means people who sign up via a Netvigator e-mail account have to upload a copy of their identity card or student card.

Some internet users told the South China Morning Post that they decided against registering when they were asked to upload a copy of their card. Others voiced concern that their real identities would be revealed.

Blogger Kay Lam, who is known online for his parodies of politicians, said: "I object to such an arrangement as this is similar to the 'real-name registration' as in mainland China."

He was referring to rules passed last year by the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress, which critics said were designed to stifle the free exchange of ideas. It requires people to register their real names whenever people sign up for internet access or phone services.

At Golden Forum, people joining via e-mail accounts at Netvigator - one of Hong Kong's largest internet access providers - can blur the last two digits of their identity card number.

Those who use different e-mail service providers are not obliged to upload any documents. In addition, the policy does not affect old members of the forum.

Golden Forum chief executive Joe Lam Cho-shun said he was against real-name registration but insisted the arrangement was meant only to ensure members could open just one account.

Some Netvigator users have up to 10 e-mail addresses, he said. They could use them to create multiple accounts and then reply to their own posts.

Then there are the banned members who have violated the forum's rules, such as uploading libellous or obscene material or infringing copyright. They could simply use another e-mail address to open a new account.

"Those people might think, 'I have a lot of accounts'; so they don't fear having one account banned," he said.

Lam added that he understood the concerns about providing copies of ID cards but had yet to come up with an alternative to proving one's "uniqueness".

The Office of the Privacy Commissioner for Personal Data (PCPD) has issued a code of practice on personal identifiers which requires organisations to treat copies of ID cards as confidential documents.

An organisation may collect such copies only for public or social interests, including the prevention and detection of crime, the collection of duties, or safeguarding Hong Kong's security, defence or international relations, according to the privacy watchdog. Other circumstances include enabling an official travel document to be issued, or to facilitate operation of a court.

If an organisation requests that an ID card copy be transmitted to them, they are required to take all reasonably practicable steps to ensure it will be received by the intended recipient only.

Information technology sector lawmaker Charles Mok questioned the necessity of collecting ID card data when the forum was letting other users provide alternative means of "proof of identity", such as student cards.

"One principle of collecting ID card numbers is that it is a necessary measure for the purpose of use … In this case, a forum user may argue it is not necessary at all," Mok said.

Additional reporting by Ernest Kao