IT lawmaker to push on with freedom of information bill

Local | Mary Ann Benitez and Phoenix Un 18 Oct 2017

Information-technology legislator Charles Mok is drafting a freedom of information act, as calls snowballed for the government to enact such a law amid Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor's policy to open up government data to facilitate research, innovation and development of a smart city.

The pan-democratic lawmaker announced this on the eve of his question at the Legislative Council on why Lam was silent about such an information law in her maiden policy address.

A University of Hong Kong academic separately pointed out yesterday that Lam's "big data" push, as part of her innovation and technology focus, would not be possible without a freedom of information act that more than 100 countries have already adopted for easier public access to masses of current government data.

Hong Kong has a Code on Access to Information, enacted in 1995 but with no legal effect, and a record-high 85 complaints were received related to denial of public access to government information, Mok was to say in his oral question today.

Lam had said in her policy address the government provides more than 3,100 datasets and 1,000 application programming interfaces for free use by the public, adding government departments "will proactively open up datasets" in various areas, while the Hospital Authority will establish a Big Data Analytics Platform.

Mok, of Professional Commons, said yesterday he is drafting the freedom of information bill together with the Progressive Lawyers group.

"Government departments have a lot of excuses [to not give out info] despite the Code of Access to Information. For example, privacy, or that the information belongs to a third party," he said.

Progressive Lawyers member Wilson Leung Wan-shun said: "The code is problematic because it has no punishment for any official who refuses to disclose information."

Hong Kong Journalists Association Executive Committee member Lam Yin-pong said media requests for information are routinely being denied by the government.

Fu King-wah, associate professor at the University of Hong Kong's Journalism and Media Studies Centre, told The Standard that "the government wants to push the area [of big data] but not necessarily that it will release more data."

He cited, for example, that around the world, a lot of public transportation data is publicly available so "everyone can check the closest transportation, bus stops, all the information for people to try to maximize the way they travel."

Fu added: "It's the norm around the world, but not Hong Kong, as they're owned by some commercial sector."

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