Privacy watchdog in rare political intervention

Local | Phoenix Un 14 Feb 2017

In a rare venture into politics, the privacy commissioner spoke out against the "civil referendum" spearheaded by Benny Tai Yiu-ting, asking the public to pay attention to privacy risks before taking part.

The Office of the Privacy Commissioner for Personal Data issued a statement yesterday, in which it "strongly demanded" the organizers of the so-called "Chief Executive Election Civil Referendum 2017" stop collecting personal data.

The Public Opinion Programme of the University of Hong Kong and Centre for Social Policy Studies at Hong Kong Polytechnic University have been commissioned by the group Citizens United in Action to organize the referendum.

The public can vote in two stages: the civil nomination stage and civil referendum stage. In the first stage, people can choose their pick of CE candidates via mobile web app or PopVote website. In the second stage, the public will vote on their favorite and their least preferred candidate.

Pro-democracy Election Committee members were recommended to take the public votes into consideration before they make nominations and vote.

The privacy watchdog said personal data collected on the website can be easily interpreted and re-identified. The use of instant messaging app Telegram to verify a participant's identity for voting has also been questioned by some computer security experts. "The existing privacy risks may not only result in irrecoverable fatal consequences, but also contravene the Data Security Principle under the Personal Data (Privacy) Ordinance," Commissioner Stephen Wong Kai-yi said.

Citizens should learn about privacy risks and consequences before taking part in the civil nomination, his office said.

Meanwhile, the Legislative Council Commission has banned the use of all Legco facilities for CE election purposes - such as meeting with contenders and campaign activities - from today till the end of the election.

"If anybody violates the measure, the commission will issue a warning letter to him or her and a carbon copy would be sent to the Electoral Affairs Commission and Independent Commission Against Corruption," commission chairman Andrew Leung Kwan-yuen said.

The measure came after legislator Leung Kwok-hung announced last week in a Legco press conference room that he would join the CE race.

Separately, Elsie Leung Oi-see, vice chairwoman of Beijing's Basic Law Committee, said there is nothing wrong in the liaison office lobbying support for chief executive contenders because they also have the freedom of expression.

"Everybody can lobby people who can vote, as long as they don't intimidate or bribe," Leung said. "EC members have free will. You can't assume that they were all manipulated."

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