A top Hong Kong official has apologised again for losing a register containing the personal data of 8,000 voters, but stopped short of any promise to revamp the system.

Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Patrick Nip appeared before the legislature on Monday, saying that his bureau would shore up preventive measures but he could not guarantee that no future losses would occur.

Patrick Nip
Patrick Nip. Photo: inmediahk.net.

“If there are some things that happen outside of our control, then we can not make such a guarantee. The most important thing is we will do all the preventive work,” Nip said.

It was revealed earlier this month that the Registration and Electoral Office (REO) lost the register belonging to a polling station in the Wai Ying constituency of New Territories West. The register contained the names, sex, addresses and identity card numbers of voters, as well as a record of the number of ballots each voter was eligible for.

The REO failed to report the incident to officials and residents for over two years.

Lawmakers have pressed the government to clarify whether there were cases of information misuse following the loss of the register. Michael Luk from the Federation of Trade Unions said he was worried that the information could be used to apply for loans or breach passwords.

vote ad
An election ad for the 2012 Legislative Council elections. File Photo: GovHK.

Nip said that investigation is ongoing, after the government reported the incident to the police and the Office of the Privacy Commissioner for Personal Data last week.

He added that around 400 of the affected voters had applied to change their addresses since 2016, and the ratio was similar to typical situations. This showed that there was “no irregularity” in terms of voters’ information kept by the government, Nip said.

Pro-Beijing lawmaker Priscilla Leung questioned whether the incident was caused by “moles” from “criminal organisations” who had infiltrated the system.

Lawmaker Cheng Chung-tai said that the register would be handled by those in charge of the polling station, and asked whether the incident showed a problem in how polling stations were run and monitored.

Cheng Chung-tai
Cheng Chung-tai. Photo: LegCo Screenshot.

Nip said that the REO hires a number of short-term staff during elections, which was something that the government would review. “But we must first look at whether this incident involves human error or deliberate deception,” he said.

The REO is required to keep election-related documents for six months after an election, unless there are election petitions. The latest incident was discovered because the Independent Commission Against Corruption was looking into a case of vote-rigging in the IT sector election.

In 2017, the REO confirmed that it lost two computers – used during the chief executive election – containing the personal data of all 3.7 million registered voters in the city.

The Hong Kong Free Press #PressForFreedom 2019 Funding Drive seeks to raise HK$1.2m to support our non-profit newsroom and dedicated team of multi-media, multi-lingual reporters. HKFP is backed by readers, run by journalists and is immune to political and commercial pressure. This year’s critical fundraiser will provide us with the essential funds to continue our work into next year.

funding drive press for freedom

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.