Outrage after Hong Kong firm attempts to DNA test all women staff over blood in bathroom

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 29 May, 2014, 1:51pm
UPDATED : Friday, 30 May, 2014, 6:14pm

In an attempt to find an employee who left menstrual bloodstains in the female restroom, an investment company required all its female staff to give blood samples for DNA testing.

Highlighting the episode among examples of serious breaches of the law, Privacy Commissioner Allan Chiang Yam-wang said yesterday that "less intrusive measures" should have been taken to avoid the "outrageous" process.

He said that after an enforcement notice was issued, the company - a local small business - agreed to destroy all of its samples and stop collecting them.

The case came to light after employees who had refused to give samples complained to the privacy watchdog.

In another case, an enforcement notice was issued to a furniture company that collected fingerprints to deter employees from punching time-cards for one another.

Senior personal data officer Natalie Poon Kit-lam said that due to the "unique immutability" of fingerprint data, less privacy-intrusive alternatives should have been adopted as misuse of fingerprints could lead to serious personal data privacy risks.

An unnamed law enforcement agency that collected the identity card numbers of job applicants' referees also received an enforcement notice for carrying out "unnecessary" data collection.

Chiang also said that recruiters who failed to disclose who they were in their job advertisements breached the Personal Data (Privacy) Ordinance by soliciting applicants' personal data in an unfair manner.

While most offenders were small and medium enterprises, listed companies were among those who published "blind ads" - in which the advertiser is not identified. A one-week study of more than 9,000 adverts in seven recruitment listings in March found 3.4 per cent were blind ads.

Chiang said his office had issued enforcement notices to 48 advertisers while investigations into another 23 cases were continuing. "A blind ad only demonstrates the company's ignorance of the law and a disrespect for privacy and data protection."

He urged recruitment media to act as gatekeepers by stepping up their efforts to identify the advertisers and by screening adverts.

Offenders who fail to comply with an enforcement notice can be fined HK$50,000 and sentenced to two years in jail.