Date: 14 June 2019
Respect Others’ Privacy and Public Interest
While Having Freedom of Expression
The Privacy Commissioner for Personal Data, Hong Kong (Privacy Commissioner), Mr Stephen Kai-yi WONG, noticed that some people of divergent views on certain social issues recently disclosed other individuals’ personal data (including sensitive personal data) on the Internet while freely expressing their views, and unfairly made doxxing, bullying or even inciting comments, with some even proposing intimidating actions.
The Privacy Commissioner has already contacted a number of operators of related online social media platforms and discussion forums, requesting them to ask the relevant netizens to immediately remove and stop uploading those content/posts. The Privacy Commissioner also joins hands with other law enforcement agencies (including the Police) to follow up on this issue.
The Privacy Commissioner stated, “Freedom of speech, free flow of information and protection of personal data privacy, which is unique and plays an irreplaceable role, has long been protected by the laws of Hong Kong (including the Basic Law). However, these fundamental rights are not absolute rights. They are subject to legal restrictions. Among the important considerations are the reputation and privacy of others, public order and national security.
From the perspective of personal privacy, when netizens upload other individuals’ personal data on social media platforms, they must consider whether the means of collection is legal and fair. It is certainly illegal to collect and disclose personal data for the unlawful purposes of bullying, incitement and intimidation."
The Privacy Commissioner explained:
If the information uploaded by a netizen in his personal capacity is only related to his personal, family or domestic affairs, or only for recreational purposes, the related post would not be regarded as a contravention of the Personal Data (Privacy) Ordinance (the Ordinance).
If the identity of the netizen is not related to his personal, family or domestic affairs, or recreational purposes; for example, being a member of the public to freely express his views in public and yet using other individuals’ personal data for unlawful purposes, it would be a contravention of the Ordinance.
Obtaining other individuals’ personal data from public domain for the purposes of doxxing, bullying, incitement and intimidation can in no way be fair and lawful, and it is also in contravention of the Ordinance.
The Privacy Commissioner reiterated that netizens should respect other individuals’ personal data privacy. Operators of online social media platforms and discussion forums should discharge their legal and corporate ethical responsibilities. They should cease providing platform to anyone for conducting unlawful behaviour and actions of infringing personal data privacy. Cyberbullying behaviour of this kind may incur civil and criminal liabilities.
As at 4:00pm today (14 June), the office of the Privacy Commissioner has received more than 50 related complaints and enquires.