Access to information is an important element in ensuring a society functions well. It provides for informed debate and better decision-making. The ability of the media to access public information is critical. There are times, however, when allowing public access to data conflicts with protection of people’s privacy. This is an issue facing Hong Kong, with doxxing – the malicious publication of personal details – prevalent amid political divisions. The latest controversy concerns a new service introduced by the government concerning searches for the personal details of car owners. When such searches are made in the Transport Department database, owners who sign up are informed . They are also provided with details of the person making the search, such as their name, organisation and address. This development is a concern for journalists who have routinely relied on the database for their investigations. Their ability to search for the information is already under threat following the arrest in November of a freelance reporter who used the database while researching a documentary for RTHK on last year’s mob attack at Yuen Long. The journalist has been charged with making a false statement when providing reasons for making the search. But there is no “news reporting” option available on the website. The case has raised concerns about the legal risks faced by the media when making legitimate searches. This issue must be urgently resolved. Why RTHK journalist was arrested, and what it means for reporting in Hong Kong The new service for motorists, however, is intended to protect their privacy at a time when doxxing is a problem. The right balance must be struck. Letting car owners know when someone has accessed their personal details on the database provides them with a measure of protection against abuse. But it also has the potential to inhibit media investigations by alerting the subject of such research. With that in mind, the new service should not reveal to car owners the details of those seeking their information. The privacy of the searcher is as important as that of the car owner. Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said consideration is being given to extending the service to other government databases. This might include the Companies Registry and Land Registry, which are commonly used by journalists for research. Caution must be exercised if such a step is to be taken. There may also be logistical and administrative issues to resolve given the number of searches involved. Hong Kong still lacks a freedom of information law. It is important to ensure that the access to information that does exist is maintained, while guarding against abuses. The priority must be to clear up the uncertainty about media use of the Transport Department database, so that journalists can use it without fearing arrest.