The Legislative Council has rejected a proposal to use its special powers to investigate the loss of two election computers.

The Registration and Electoral Office recently lost two election laptops at the backup polling site of the chief executive election. They contained personal information relating to all 3.78 million Hong Kong voters. They have yet to be found after a month.

Had the council formed a select committee under the Powers and Privileges Ordinance, it could have had the legal power to summon witnesses to investigate the incident.

chief executive election 2017 John Tsang, Carrie Lam and Woo Kwok-hing
The chief executive election polling station. Photo: HKFP/Ellie Ng.

However, during the vote at the House Committee, the proposal received 25 “yes” votes and “25” no votes, meaning that – according to house rules – the chair of the committee had to cast a deciding vote. The chair case a “no” vote.

The proposal was suggested by Civic Passion party lawmaker Cheng Chung-tai, who called the incident an “almost national-level danger and disaster.”

Only 1,194 electors of the chief executive election committee had the right to vote on March 26, but a laptop storing the names, addresses and identity card numbers of all voters were brought to the backup site. The Registration and Electoral Office had argued that the system was required to confirm electors’ eligibility, but since admitted it was not appropriate.

Cheng said the incident not only infringed upon the public’s privacy, but also the public’s trust in elections.

Cheng chung tai
Cheng Chung-tai. Photo: HKFP/Catherine Lai.

The computers were lost from a locked room but there was no one guarding them. There was no sign of a break-in. Cheng questioned whether there were political factors at play, and whether someone in the government intended to steal the information.

He said that since there were lots of mysteries surrounding the incident, it was necessary for the LegCo to use its special powers to investigate, instead of waiting for the government’s response.

His proposal was supported by the pro-democracy camp, but rejected by the pro-Beijing camp.

Pro-Beijing lawmaker Elizabeth Quat said the incident amounted to a very serious mistake and a criminal act, but the police and the privacy commissioner were investigating it, thus the LegCo should not be involved.

“It would disturb the police’s investigation,” she said. She suggested the LegCo should only find ways to follow up after a review by the government is made.

Elizabeth Quat
Elizabeth Quat. Photo: HKFP/Catherine Lai.

But pro-democracy lawmaker Leung Yiu-chung disagreed with Quat’s reasoning.

“If your reasons are right, you [Quat] don’t have to be a lawmaker,” he said.

Cheng said he was disappointed by the pro-Beijing camp’s refusal to support his proposal, saying that the camp was not responsible and was ignoring the importance of voter information.

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.