The police filed 3,448 disclosure requests for user information to internet service providers in 2016 – the highest number among all government departments.

The government does not actively publish the statistics. They were released by the Innovation and Technology Bureau in response to an annual request by IT sector lawmaker Charles Mok, which he submitted as a written question at the Legislative Council.

The number of requests from the police was 28 times that of the Customs and Excise Department, the department which made the second highest number of requests. Customs made 123 requests last year.

Hong Kong police. File photo: HKFP/Tom Grundy.

The police have consistently been the department making the most user information requests since complete data sets were published in 2011. Last year, they filed 3,997 requests.

The main reason for the requests were crime prevention and detection.

“They will make the requests in accordance with duty-related laws, established procedures or guidelines, including the Personal Data (Privacy) Ordinance and the relevant code of practice/ guidelines, and will ensure that the relevant requests are only made when it is necessary for performing duties,” the Innovation and Technology Bureau said in the written reply to Mok.

“The above mechanism and guidelines have been functioning effectively and efficiently. At present, we do not have plans to make any change.”

Incomplete data

The Innovation and Technology Bureau did not reveal the number of requests the police made following court orders, nor did it publish the number of requests accepted. Mok said that the bureau did not respond to his request that an independent committee be formed to make and review guidelines related to requests which require a court order.

He said it also did not answer as to whether it will issue a transparency report every six months: “It was a completely lax reply.”

The police filed 33 requests for information removal to internet service providers in 2016, a drop from 96 in 2015.

The record said the nature of the information mainly involved obscene articles, phishing websites and accessing a computer with dishonest intent.

Most of the organisations concerned removed the information as per the police request.

Last year, technology company Google said in a report that the police requested that it remove a video posted online which showed apparent police brutality. The video apparently showed officers assaulting a person under arrest in a police vehicle. Google did not remove the footage.

Kris Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist with an interest in local politics. His work has been featured in Washington Post, Public Radio International, Hong Kong Economic Times and others. He has a BSSc in Sociology from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Kris is HKFP's Editorial Director.