Hong Kong protests: with nearly 5,000 doxxing complaints since unrest erupted, officials mull new powers for privacy commissioner
- Constitutional affairs minister tells legislature personal information ‘has been weaponised’
- The commissioner’s office has for years been mocked as a “toothless tiger”, for its lack of power to conduct criminal investigations
Hong Kong’s privacy watchdog has received more than 4,700 complaints over doxxing since the current social unrest began last June, as the government plans to give the office more powers to tackle what it called the “weaponised” use of personal information.
During a Legislative Council meeting on Wednesday, constitutional affairs minister Patrick Nip Tak-kuen said the government would consult lawmakers over the amendment to the Personal Data (Privacy) Ordinance at a panel meeting on January 23.
“Personal information has been weaponised, so we and the Privacy Commissioner for Personal Data have to study how to amend the ordinance to handle these cases more effectively,” Nip said.
He said the commissioner’s office had made a series of suggestions on how to give the statutory body more power. They included granting it the power to have social media platforms and other websites remove certain posts, to conduct criminal investigations, and even to launch prosecutions over the misuse of personal information, he added.
The commissioner’s office has for years been mocked as a “toothless tiger”, for its lack of power to conduct criminal investigations. It can only pass complaints to the police, if it deems that necessary, with any prosecution launched by the Department of Justice.
Nip noted that countries such as Singapore have laws against doxxing, adding that authorities would study foreign legal situations, formulate the amendments and consult relevant stakeholders.
“The factors involved are the legal considerations with regulating doxxing, such as the definition of the crime and how to strike a balance between privacy, freedom of speech and the flow of information,” Nip said of the incoming amendments.
About 30 per cent of recent doxxing cases concerned government and police supporters, while about 10 per cent were filed by people who opposed the government, he said, citing data updated at the end of 2019.
In October, the High Court granted an injunction sought by the police and the justice secretary to bar anyone from sharing the personal details of police officers and their families without their permission.
Separately, Privacy Commissioner for Personal Data Stephen Wong Kai-yi said the number of doxxing complaints received by his office had declined recently, though the latest figure had topped 4,700.
“We made great efforts in tracking down the doxxers and requesting that social platforms assist,” Wong said.
He added that his office had written to about 16 websites and platforms to request “intimidating messages” be removed.
“About 70 per cent of the links were removed,” he said.
In a statement on Friday, Wong defended his decision to actively probe the case involving a police officer showing the Hong Kong ID card of a reporter live on camera last month.
Wong said what the officer had done was not exempted under the ordinance, and that it was the commissioner’s duty to investigate the alleged misuse of personal information.
His statement was in response to a letter from a member of public, who had accused Wong of enforcing the law selectively and being “yellow to the core”, a reference to the colour which symbolises the pro-democracy movement.