Legislator Charles Mok. Photo: Jonathan Wong

Privacy fears over police cybersecurity monitoring

Force says personal data is safe as it launches online security centre amid surge in attacks

The police have to adopt greater transparency in their monitoring of the internet so as to dispel public fears of privacy violations brought on by launch of the force's new cybersecurity centre, lawmakers and activists said yesterday.

The HK$9 million centre, located in the force's headquarters in Wan Chai, was launched yesterday to ensure internet security for government departments, public utilities, transport operators, communications service providers and financial institutions amid a surge of cyber attacks.

Authorities reiterated that police would monitor, with the consent of the institutions involved, only the flow of information, and not its content.

But information technology constituency lawmaker Charles Mok said the police should seek independent computer experts to review its procedures and technology, so as to safeguard against infringing upon the privacy and personal data of users.

"Now, the law enforcers and banks have agreed to monitor certain data. The banks may not find this a problem, but its clients may be worried," he said.

Activist Andrew Shum Wai-nam suggested that a statutory body be set up to monitor the centre's operation.

The number of cyber attacks in Hong Kong has surged to 786 cases in the first 10 months of this year, compared with 578 for the whole of last year.

Losses from such attacks also rose sharply to HK$135.75 million so far this year, compared with HK$42.5 million for the whole of 2011.

Commercial crime bureau head, Chief Superintendent Chung Siu-yeung, said the centre was essential to protect Hong Kong's critical infrastructure. "Under the current system, we would monitor only the data traffic of critical infrastructure. We would not monitor data content of organisations or individuals," he said.

The centre, staffed with 27 officers, would monitor data flow of the institution's computer systems and inform them if suspicious or excessive flow was found. Police officers would investigate crimes and seek the institutions' consent and court warrant, if necessary, to view any data content, Chung said.

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Privacy fears as cyberpolice start monitoring web