Date: 1 September 2019
Privacy Commissioner Responds to Interviewee's Comments in
Today's TVB News Programme "On the Record" in Relation to
PCPD's Follow-up Actions on Online Disclosure of Personal Data in Recent Months
In today’s news programme “On the Record” on TVB Channel, an interviewee alleged that the Privacy Commissioner for Personal Data (Privacy Commissioner) has failed to stop the indiscriminate disclosure of personal data at online platforms in recent months. The Privacy Commissioner Mr Stephen Kai-yi WONG makes the following response:
The office of the Privacy Commissioner for Personal Data (PCPD) has its power conferred upon under Personal Data (Privacy) Ordinance, Cap 486 (PDPO). PDPO does not empower the PCPD to compel the operators of online social media platforms to remove posts issued by their account holders that have infringed upon others’ privacy. Further, although the posts and speech in question are definitely inappropriate, the PCPD does not have the power to apply for an injunction from the Court for restraining the online social media platforms from displaying those posts or speech.
In most circumstances, cyberbullying involves disclosure of others’ personal data. It is usually done for the purposes of spreading hate speech, incitement, causing fear and anxiety and intimidation. Similar to overseas situations, we cannot rely on personal data privacy legislation to stop such acts effectively in no time.
The interviewee commented that the lack of action on the part of the PCPD attributed to the lack of statutory powers, and that it was therefore unnecessary to trigger the emergency regulations. This comment is not only factually incorrect, but also unconvincing. It is unfair to judge the work performance of all the staff of the PCPD on the basis of the limitation of the Privacy Commissioner’s statutory power.
Duty-bound to Take Follow-up Action Strictly in Accordance with the Law
Notwithstanding, the Privacy Commissioner and his team have been faithfully discharging their duties and proactively following up on each case in recent months. From 14 June to 30 August (5:00pm), the PCPD:
received and proactively found and examined 841 related cases;
referred 692 cases to the Police for further criminal investigation and prosecution proceedings according to the Law 1; and has been working closely with the Police, including timely referring cases which may have contravened the criminal provision of the PDPO to the Police for criminal investigations and even arrests;
has written 41 times to eight related social networking platforms and online discussion forums 2, requesting them to remove all inappropriate posts;
has set up a special team to proactively search for links with inappropriate posts;
As at 30 August 2019, the PCPD has requested the related platforms to remove a total of 872 web links, of which 474 (representing 54%) have already been removed. The PCPD will continue to request the related platforms to remove the contents and will continue reviewing those platforms;
as some of the platforms involved are operated and managed from outside Hong Kong, the PCPD has liaised with relevant overseas privacy enforcement authorities and the relevant office in Hong Kong to enlist their assistance and advice.
Stepping Forward to Condemn Doxxing
The Privacy Commissioner has repeatedly said in public that personal privacy is a basic human right, but that right is not absolute. That right is subject to statutory restrictions. The important considerations are the reputation and privacy of others, public order and national security. The PCPD has also repeatedly pointed out that anyone who collects and discloses other people's personal information on social platforms to achieve bullying, incitement and intimidation is definitely illegal, unfair and contravenes the PDPO and other relevant laws. The Privacy Commissioner also strongly condemns any intrusion of personal data privacy, "doxxing" and bullying acts. Since 1 June:
The PCPD has issued 10 related media statements;
The PCPD has given 25 responses to media enquiries;
The Privacy Commissioner has explained to the media or the public for more than 40 times (e.g.: 《政經星期六》on Commercial Radio on 31 August and 29 June, 《自由風自由Phone》and《千禧年代》on RTHK Radio and 《在晴朗的一天出發》on Commercial Radio on 28 and 29 August, “Hong Kong Today” on RTHK Radio 3 on 23 July) ; and
About 660 relevant reports on the Internet, electronic and traditional media.
The Privacy Commissioner stresses that his office attaches great importance to the views of various sectors of the community. All views, including criticisms, will be carefully examined. The PCPD has, as always, enforced the law in a fair and just manner under PDPO.
1 The related links involved the disclosure of individuals’ (including children’s) personal data, especially for illegal purposes like bullying, incitement and intimidation, and without the consent of the related individuals. Such disclosure is definitely unfair and illegal, causing psychological harm to the parties involved. The PCPD considers that the persons involved may contravene section 64 of Personal Data (Privacy) Ordinance, which is a criminal offence.
2 The eight related social networking platforms and online discussion forums are: LIHKG, HKGolden, Telegram, Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, Doxbin