Hong Kong police made 5,325 user data disclosure requests and 4,175 information removal requests to ICT companies last year, according to government data. Both figures marked a significant increase from 3,440 and 38, respectively, in 2018.

Mass demonstrations and unrest erupted last June over a now-withdrawn extradition bill. The pro-democracy movement – which lacked any centralised leadership – used tech-savvy digital means to coordinate, evaluate tactics and disseminate information online.

China extradition protest admiralty clash
Photo: Todd R. Darling/HKFP.

Responding to a question from IT sector lawmaker Charles Mok, the government – which does not actively publish statistics – issued a statement from newly-appointed Secretary for Innovation and Technology Alfred Sit on Wednesday.

According to the data, the force made 2,181 requests to local and foreign service providers for “users’ information” from January to June, followed by 3,144 from July to December last year. The data was for the purpose of “crime prevention and detection” related to technology and internet use. The combined figure marked a 55 per cent rise from the year before.

Police made an additional 180 requests to providers to remove “users’ information” from January to June, followed by a sharp surge to 3,995 from July to December last year – more than 100 times higher than the year before.

july 28 Hong Kong island protest china extradition
Police attempt to access the phone of a protester arrested on Des Voeux Road West.Photo: Holmes Chan/HKFP.

The increase coincided with a hike in the number of complaints over “doxxing” – the practice of sharing personal information about selected groups without a person’s consent, including officers and journalists.

The request figures from police scored higher than all other government departments.

In contrast, the force made 3,187 requests for user information in 2017, 3,448 in 2016 and 3,997 in 2015. It also made 86 requests for information removal in 2017, 33 in 2016 and 96 in 2015.

Jennifer Creery is a Hong Kong-born British journalist, interested in minority rights and urban planning. She holds a BA in English at King's College London and has studied Mandarin at National Taiwan University.