Hong Kong’s Transport Department has proposed installing 1,070 traffic detectors to enhance the efficiency of traffic and incident management. But a lawmaker has warned that the move could breach residents’ privacy.

The department said in its latest document to the Legislative Council that the plan was part of the “smart mobility” initiatives of the “Hong Kong Smart City Blueprint,” promulgated in December 2017. The initiatives include installing traffic detectors at all strategic routes to provide real-time traffic information.

There would be three types of detectors, and relevant traffic incident information will be disseminated to public transport operators, the Police Force and the Fire Services Department so they can coordinate with each other whilst handling traffic incidents.

File Photo: Citizen News.

One of the three types of detectors are automatic licence plate recognition detectors. They would allow the government to gather data on the traffic volume of different vehicle classes on roads by matching licence plates captured by the detectors with the department’s vehicle licensing system.

Democratic Party lawmaker James To said that it was unnecessary to collect licence plate numbers for the sake of managing traffic.

“The government’s suggestion is breaching residents’ privacy,” he said.

To said the new detectors will be for general usage, unlike speeding cameras which have a specific purpose in law enforcement.

“The detectors could collect unnecessary data – there is no need for licence plate numbers in traffic management,” he said. “[The government] may be able to trace the locations of specific cars.”

James To. File photo: In-Media.

The government also plans to install video detectors to collect data on traffic speed and volume, and to automatically detect traffic incidents on roads through video analytics. It also plans to install bluetooth detectors, which would generate data on average speed and journey time by detecting bluetooth devices in vehicles.

The department said that, after removing personal data, traffic data collected by the detectors will be disseminated through its websites, mobile applications and the data.gov.hk website.

“TD has been handling all personal data collected strictly in accordance with the Personal Data (Privacy) Ordinance,” it said.

Photo: GovHK.

The Legislative Council in mid-2016 approved the design and construction costs of around 550 traffic detectors on parts of the strategic routes, and the relevant design work was completed in October, according to the department.

The installation contract for the 550 detectors was expected to be awarded in the middle of this year and will be completed by the end of 2020.

The latest document submitted by the department proposed an additional 520 traffic detectors. The project will cost around HK$238.6 million.

Photo: GovHK.

The department said it submitted papers on the project to the 18 District Councils earlier this month and has not received any objections.

Kris Cheng

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.