Claims of ‘suspicious’ practices at internet firm

Sudden rise in the number of new members to a corporation that registers domain names raises questions over its board election, media report says

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 01 April, 2017, 11:27pm
UPDATED : Monday, 10 April, 2017, 3:03pm

A pro-establishment businessman has been accused of questionable behaviour after a sudden surge in the number of new members joining an organisation that oversees the registration of internet domain names, according to an investigation by a local news agency.

FactWire claims that, ahead of a board election in May, at least 73 of 1,044 new members joined the Hong Kong Internet Registration Corporation (HKIRC) at the last minute and registered domains from IP addresses connected to three businesses controlled by Duncan Chiu Tat-kun, the president of the Information Technology Joint Council.

These new members will have voting rights in the election of board members of the corporation. Chiu was previously tipped by industry insiders as a possible candidate.

Chiu, however, has since told Ming Pao through his assistant that he “had no intention” to participate in the board election. “The report mentioned the HKIRC membership [increase] and the links to my companies. I hope complete information will be provided for a follow-up.”

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Chiu has yet to respond to the Post’s inquiry made to his Information Technology Joint Council as to whether he was involved in the registration of the 73 members and whether he was running for the board. He did not reply to ­FactWire’s questions.

Commenting on the report, former board member Young Wo-sang told the Post the sudden emergence of 73 members using the same IP address as Chiu’s companies was “unusual”.

“It raises suspicions as to whether the move was intended to manipulate the upcoming election, as using the same IP address means the registrations were made in the same place, same ­office,” Young said.

The corporation, commissioned by the government to administer applications for domain names that end with .com.hk, .org.hk and others, has a board comprising four representatives elected by members and four ­appointed by the government.

The Office of the Government Chief Information Officer said the government is not involved in the board election and the corporation operates independently.

In its media statement, the corporation said it had an established procedure to verify member registration data, under which each domain-name holder had equal opportunity to become a member.

It said it would “conduct [a] thorough investigation on the matter” should there be any queries over its membership eligibility and registration details.

Young said the board has a say in how the corporation’s cash can be used and what sort of activities it wants to organise. In 2015, it ­reported HK$150 million in cash assets and a retained profit of HK$108 million.

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Asked whether the board had the power to censor sensitive ­domain names, Young said there was an internal guideline on unacceptable domain names, which, for example, would not ­allow a body that had no banking business to use “bank” in its ­domain name.

“The board usually does not deal with day-to-day operational matters, but it can always give directions to the administrators,” he added.

The corporation has loose rules in accepting members. Any person residing in Hong Kong or local organisation can join online if they maintain a valid internet domain name under .hk.

Chiu’s Information Technology Joint Council has a lot of dealings with the mainland. Its activities to promote industry ­development have been supported by Beijing’s liaison office in the city and the central government.

The corporation has about 4,600 members. Last year, 70 valid ballots were cast in the election and the winner had just 47 votes.