Work nearly done to toughen privacy rules and penalties

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Amy Nip

Friday, February 08, 2019

Proposals to amend the privacy laws will be finalized in the first half of the year, including whether to make it mandatory for enterprises to report data leaks, said Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Patrick Nip Tak-kuen.

This follows the controversy involving Cathay Pacific Airways, which said the data of 9.4 million passengers had been leaked last year. It only made the revelation seven months later.

In a radio interview, Nip said details for amending the Personal Data (Privacy) Ordinance should be ready by June.

The topics being looked into center around whether it should be compulsory for companies to report leaks and if there should be harsher penalties for offenders, he said.

The government is also considering shortening the number of years required for firms to keep client records. But it is "open-minded" to suggestions, Nip added.

Earlier, Privacy Commissioner Stephen Wong Kai-yi admitted Hong Kong's privacy watchdog is weak compared to its foreign counterparts.

Dubbed as a toothless tiger by many critics, the commission will investigate and hold discussions with the government on increasing the penalties, Wong said. Granting the commission more power is also on the table.

Wong said the commission is considering following the footsteps of the European Union's new general data protection regulation, which requires data handlers to report data breaches within three days.

Companies that fail to report the breaches within the required time frame can be fined 20 million euros (HK$178 million) or 4 percent of their annual revenues.

In Hong Kong, organizations are currently not obliged to report data breaches to the commissioner, and the maximum fine is HK$50,000.

Meanwhile, Nip rejected criticisms the government is ignoring the Equal Opportunities Commission's recommendations on racial discrimination.

The equality watchdog has suggested the government prioritize providing protection from racial discrimination in relation to the exercise of government functions and powers when it amends the laws.

This will help establish a legal foundation to ban authorities from making any policy that discriminates against a person's race.

Nip said the government is trying to press through easier and urgent options first before looking into the more complex ones.

amy.nip@singtaonewscorp.com