I find it necessary to make clarifications in response to the media reports on the handling of personal data privacy cases by Hongkong Post when I was the Postmaster General from 2003 to 2006. The following are the media enquiries and my responses:
Enquiry: It was said that when the incident was reported by the media on 18 June 2005, the Hongkong Post only promised to discuss with the Police as soon as possible to see if the cameras would be dismantled, that means Mr. Chiang’s statement that “he decided to immediately dismantle” the cameras once he knew the incident could not be established. What is the explanation of Mr. Chiang?
Response: The incident happened 5 years ago and was an isolated case involving one post office. The arrangement was decided at the district level. I personally knew of the incident on 18 June 2005 (Sat). Before that, I had no knowledge of the arrangement and I had not approved the installation of the pinhole cameras.
The pinhole camera system was disabled on (or before) 23 June 2005(Thurs).
[Remark: The Office of the Privacy Commissioner for Personal Data (“PCPD”) confirmed the commencement of a formal investigation into the case on 23 June 2005.]
Enquiry: Mr. Chiang said that the installation of pinhole cameras at Cheung Sha Wan Post Office was an isolated case, but it was said that the Hongkong Post at that time planned to install similar facilities at all the post offices in Hong Kong. What is Mr. Chiang’s explanation to this?
Response: Pinhole cameras were installed at Cheung Sha Wan Post Office in 2005 to identify the culprit of a series of theft cases which took place in that post office. This situation was rare and unusual.
Hongkong Post should be able to confirm that it had never planned to install pinhole cameras at all the post offices in Hong Kong.
Enquiry: Is it true that Mr. Chiang had taken a “firm stand” on the “pinhole camera incident” in 2005 by stating that he could not rule out the possibility of using pinhole cameras for employee monitoring?
Response: The Personal Data (Privacy) Ordinance does not totally prohibit covert surveillance of employees’ activities. However, employers should take the following factors into consideration:
Employers should ensure that cameras only target locations where the abusive acts would most likely take place and the use and retention of video records are properly managed.
For details, please refer to the “Privacy Guidelines: Monitoring and Personal Data Privacy at Work” issued by the PCPD.
I briefed all the staff of Hongkong Post on 30 June 2005 through an audio broadcast. Part of the content of that broadcast is reproduced below:
“…The installation of pinhole cameras is our [i.e. postal operations] decision after discussions with the Police. There is only one purpose: to detect the criminals by cooperating with the Police in its investigation work. When we (i.e. postal operations) installed and used the pinhole cameras, we had complied with the guidelines issued by the Privacy Commissioner for Personal Data, e.g. the cameras were installed at specific locations in the workplace, not in toilets, changing rooms or storerooms. Moreover, the pinhole cameras were only used for instant monitoring, and the video recordings would only be viewed when theft cases happened again….
Our colleagues may ask if our department will install pinhole cameras again. I can only say that I wish I don’t need to consider this at all in future. Pinhole cameras were installed in Cheung Sha Wan Post Office only because of very rare and unusual circumstances. This was an isolated arrangement. However, if similar incidents happen again, I really can’t rule out the possibility of considering the use of covert surveillance system to meet the needs of the special circumstances. We have to assist the investigation work of the enforcement agencies, to safeguard public interests and to protect the mail and government properties. But I promise the department will surely first consider other feasible and effective detection methods. I will also personally find out whether it is necessary to use covert surveillance system before giving any approval, and will ensure that the application and management of such systems will strictly protect staff’s privacy. The Office of the Privacy Commissioner has shown concern about the case of Cheung Sha Wan Post Office and will follow up the case. If they give us recommendations after evaluation, we will be pleased to comply to ensure the best balance between our public responsibility for mail security and the protection of our staff’s privacy.”
For details, please refer to the Hongkong Post publication: “Hongkong Post: Heart for Excellence”, pages 184 to 185.
The explanation was made without the benefit of the findings and recommendations of PCPD’s subsequent investigation.
Following the Privacy Commissioner’s recommendations, the Hongkong Post had since improved its systems for management of personal data and tighten up measures to protect the privacy of personal data.]
In brief terms, I also explained in the press conference of 4 August 2010 as follows: “Despite the legitimate purpose to protect customers’ property from theft, and efforts were made to manage the personal data collected, the arrangement had not complied fully with the requirements of the Personal Data (Privacy) Ordinance.” This explanation is consistent with my explanation in 2005 when I was the Postmaster General.
Enquiry: What is Mr. Chiang’s explanation?
Response: The Hongkong Post had replied to the media that the allegation was unfounded. It had not passed personal data of job applicants to any company.
Enquiry: The then Privacy Commissioner pointed out that the act had contravened Data Protection Principle 3 of the Personal Data (Privacy) Ordinance. Mr. Chiang, please confirm if you knew of the case.
Response: I have left the Hongkong Post for many years. As the incident happened 7 years ago, I really cannot master the details of the case enough to give the media a full explanation.
However, given the information revealed by the media, I reckon that the contravention of Data Protection Principle was due to the carelessness of the Post Office staff concerned. The investigation officer must have informed me of the case and the Post Office management should have complied with the Enforcement Notice issued by the then Privacy Commissioner for Personal Data and implemented improvement measures to prevent a recurrence of similar irregularities.
Enquiry: Someone queried Mr. Chiang’s appointment as the Privacy Commissioner by using the metaphor: “how come a person who has committed indecent assault could be found suitable to combat offences of indecent assaults?”
Response: This is tantamount to an apple-to-orange comparison which I do not think is appropriate. I accept that as the then Postmaster General, I was accountable for Case 1 and Case 3. However, on a personal level, I must emphasize there was no issue of my ignorance of personal data privacy rights.
I personally have not intruded any personal data privacy rights. The cases in question only reflect that the awareness of protecting personal data privacy of individual staff of Hongkong Post at that time was not high enough.
They also underline the importance of promoting the awareness and understanding of the Ordinance by the PCPD. I pledge that in the pursuit to fulfill the mission of protecting personal data privacy, I will make extra efforts in the education and promotion work, and work with all stakeholders to build a society which respects personal data privacy.