Stolen laptops carrying voter information triggers security review at Hong Kong electoral office

Office to spend about HK$5 million on sending letters to every voter about the theft

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 08 April, 2017, 4:05pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 08 April, 2017, 4:08pm

Hong Kong’s electoral office will review its security measures and supervision protocols following the theft of two laptop computers containing the personal information of 3.7 million voters, the city’s constitutional affairs minister said.

Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Raymond Tam Chi-yuen also defended the Registration and Electoral Office’s decision to spend about HK$5 million on sending letters to every voter informing them about the incident.

“This is the most direct and the best way to notify them, because not everyone would notice it even if we explained in through the media or our press releases,” he said on a Commercial Radio programme on Saturday.

Hong Kong election laptop theft may have been ‘inside job’

Last Monday, staff from the electoral office discovered two laptops had been stolen from a storeroom at the AsiaWorld-Expo centre on Lantau Island, which served as a back-up venue for the chief executive election on March 26. The laptops contained the names, addresses and identity card numbers of 3.7 million voters.

The Registration and Electoral Office (REO) said the information was needed at the venue to check the identities of the 1,194 Election Committee members on the day. The office’s reasoning was quickly criticised as “nonsensical”, as all that was required was a list of the committee members.

Tam, who previously apologised for the incident, said during the radio programme he agreed that voter information “should not be stored on a laptop away from the government’s office”, and it was too risky.

Tam said there were a number of measures that needed to be taken to ensure there is not a repeat of the situation.

“The first measure is on data security. I have asked the Innovation and Technology Bureau to look into whether the voter information’s encryption can be further strengthened,” he said.

“On venue security ... I have asked the REO to review whether their properties need to be stored in a place with closed-circuit cameras, and it should also look into its internal supervision, such as whether such matters should be handled by a higher-ranking officer.”

Last week, Hong Kong’s graft buster arrested 72 people accused of vote-rigging in the information technology functional constituency in last year’s Legislative Council polls. It was the biggest crackdown on election fraud in more than 13 years.

Among those arrested by the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) were 68 newly registered electors and four middlemen, three of whom were registered voters.

Inquiries revealed the newly registered electors – some of whom were students, clerks, drivers and housewives – should not have even qualified for membership of the professional groups in the information technology field.

Hong Kong poll bosses call for election ‘pull-out’ ban

Tam said in the aftermath of the recent arrest, his bureau had examined ways to tighten the voter registration system for the IT sector.

“I have asked my colleagues to start working on [areas such as] whether we should have a unified standard in approving the eligibility of voters,” Tam revealed.