A police officer displayed a journalist’s Hong Kong identity card and press pass in front of a live streaming camera during a stop and search on Thursday. The stunt sparked complaints over a potential privacy breach.

Stand News Deputy Assignment Editor Ronson Chan was covering a protest in Tai Po when he asked a group of men with batons if they were police officers.

A quarrel ensued as the undercover officers demanded Chan present his Hong Kong identity card and press pass. “I will arrest you if you don’t cooperate,” an officer said.

Ronson Chan police
Stand News journalist Ronson Chan’s Hong Kong identity card displayed by a police officer in front of a live streaming camera. Photo: Stand News.

The officer then displayed Chan’s Legislative Council and Hong Kong Journalists Association press passes in front of a camera which was live streaming to thousands of viewers.

Chan asked the officer to stop displaying his cards in front of the camera. But the officer displayed Chan’s Hong Kong identity card – which included his date of birth, photo and legal name – for around 40 seconds.

Chan said the officer’s behaviour was a violation of the Personal Data (Privacy) Ordinance. But an officer said: “You chose to switch on the [camera] yourself.”

Chung Pui-kuen, chief editor of Stand News, said the news outlet will assist Chan in filing a formal complaint to the privacy commissioner over the suspected violation of the Personal Data (Privacy) Ordinance. He said they will demand the police provide the name and number of the officer involved.

Ronson Chan
Ronson Chan (right).

‘Out of control’ 

The Hong Kong Journalists Association, of which Chan is an executive committee member, as well as the Hong Kong Press Photographers’ Association, issued a joint statement expressing strong condemnation of the police over the incident, and asked the force and the privacy commissioner to step in and investigate.

“The behaviour of some frontline police officers is out of control. The police should correct the problem as soon as possible to halt any acts harming press freedom,” they said.

Privacy Commissioner Stephen Wong said on an RTHK radio programme on Friday that, although a complaint has yet to be filed, there were adequate reasons for his office to launch an investigation.

He said the use of personal data should be in line with the purpose of collection, and the consent of the person should be obtained if the purposes are changed.

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

“If there is no consent, or even opposition, there is prima facie evidence that it is a violation of the use of personal data principle,” he said.

Edwin Cheng, a former member of the Independent Police Complaints Council, said on the radio show that police would normally cover identity cards with their hands during checks. He said the officer’s behaviour during the incident was “clearly wrong.”

He said that police top brass should urge frontline officers to be more careful.

Edwin Cheng
Edwin Cheng (left). File Photo: IPCC.

New People’s Party lawmaker Eunice Yung, vice-chair of the legislature’s Panel on Security, said on the RTHK show that the officer’s behaviour was impulsive and inappropriate.

She urged officers to remain restrained, and respect journalists’ work.

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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.