MTR staff members were spotted wearing a body camera at the Causeway Bay MTR station on Sunday, around the time of the annual July 1 democracy march.

At least two people in MTR staff uniforms were seen equipped with body-worn cameras, according to reports by HK01 and Mingpao. The staff members in question were positioned on the concourse level in the middle of pedestrian traffic. The outward appearance of the cameras is nearly identical to those worn by the police, whose use of the devices has raised privacy concerns.

Police body worn video cameras
Police body worn video cameras. File Photo: GovHK.

A small label was attached to the bottom of the device, which stated in Chinese and English: “Our Body Worn Video Cameras will be operated in appropriate circumstances. The video footage will be used for railway management and security purposes, and will be handled in accordance with the Personal Data (Privacy) Ordinance.”

The MTR Corporation told HKFP that body-worn cameras are used by the customer service rapid response team, which is responsible for patrolling the “busier MTR stations” including Causeway Bay station.

“The MTRC deployed additional manpower to Island Line stations due to the large-scale public event on July 1,” the statement read. “According to our records, no body-worn cameras were activated at Causeway Bay station on that day.”

Exit E of Causeway Bay MTR station. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.
Exit E of Causeway Bay MTR station. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

“The MTRC has strict regulations and only trained personnel at specific posts will be permitted to operate body-worn cameras. If a staff member believes there is a need for video-recording, he or she will first notify passengers before activating the camera. Staff members will also make detailed records as to the time, location and incident of video-recording,” the MTRC added.

Privacy Commissioner for Personal Data Stephen Wong Kai-yi said in a statement that he was aware of the MTRC’s use of body-worn cameras, but his office “was not approached by [the MTRC] for this particular practice.”

Wong said that, as a matter of law, the government generally does not prohibit individuals or organisations from installing or using body-worn cameras. Rules differ depending on whether the camera is used to “collect or compile information about identified persons”: if so, it must comply with the Personal Data (Privacy) Ordinance and its Data Protection Principles.

Wong added that the principle of transparency is “strongly encouraged.”

stephen wong kai yi
Commissioner Stephen Wong Kai-yi. Photo: Privacy Commissioner for Personal Data.

“For instance, conspicuous notices should be put up in stations notifying passengers that body worn cameras for certain specified purposes will be used,” he said.

MTR staff members were first reported to be using body-worn cameras in 2015 at Sheung Shui station. Three cameras were issued to staff to monitor potential clashes between parallel traders and local residents. At the time, the MTRC said that the cameras will mainly be used to film physical confrontations, and the footage may be requested by the police as evidence.

Reports in 2016 suggested that body-worn cameras were used in Fanling, Lo Wu, Lok Ma Chau and Tai Po Market stations. The MTRC did not respond to HKFP’s question on the overall number of cameras currently in use.

Holmes Chan is a reporter at Hong Kong Free Press. He covers local news with a focus on law, politics, and social movements. He studied law and literature at the University of Hong Kong.