Cold-callers could be made criminals, but they won’t be caught, Hong Kong commerce minister says

Collecting evidence to prosecute those responsible for unwanted telemarketing calls would be fraught with difficulty, Greg So says

PUBLISHED : Friday, 12 May, 2017, 11:57am
UPDATED : Friday, 12 May, 2017, 11:21pm

Difficulties collecting evidence would make it hard to prosecute cold-callers even if the government were to criminalise the practice, Hong Kong commerce minister Greg So Kam-leung said on Friday.

His remarks came after the Commerce and Economic Development Bureau proposed three solutions on Thursday to tackle unwanted calls from marketeers selling goods and services.

Those options were telemarketing firms improving self-regulation; promoting call-filtering apps for smartphones; and establishing a statutory “do not call” register.

Officials said telemarketers could be subject to either civil or criminal sanctions if they continued to call numbers listed on such a register by people who did not want to be disturbed.

Hong Kong’s nuisance cold-callers could be branded criminals

Speaking on a radio programme on Friday morning, So said he was open to those options and that all three could be implemented at the same time if there was public support. But he said it would be difficult to bring telemarketers to court as some could be based overseas.

“Some cold calls are made from abroad, which makes law enforcement difficult, and many receivers do not record the phone conversation,” So said. “Therefore it is hard to collect evidence.”

So said the prosecution rate against telemarketers in other countries had been very low. There were only 33 cases in Canada in which enforcement action was taken, among 130,000 related complaints. In Australia that figure was just five from 23,000 complaints.

The government has long been reluctant to get tough on nuisance callers, but is now under renewed pressure to act after a recent case in which a family did not answer an emergency call because they thought it was a marketeer.

Hong Kong officials urged to require cold-callers use identifiable numbers

A survey commissioned by the government in 2015 found 96 per cent of respondents felt bothered by unsolicited calls.

The government will gather public opinion until July 31 before deciding on the way forward, which means the issue will be dealt with by the administration of Hong Kong’s incoming leader Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor.

When asked if he would stay on in the new government, So said: “I have planned a trip with my wife after July 1. It will be a long holiday.”