Hong Kong’s privacy commissioner has welcomed the tough sentencing of an ex-clerical assistant who pleaded guilty to “misconduct in public office” after publishing the personal data of 215 public officers.

Hung Wing-sum was sentenced to 45 months behind bars on Monday after admitting to publicly divulging the personal details of government officials, judges, celebrities, police officers and their family members over the Telegram messaging app.

File Photo: Ross Richardson.

The information was leaked from Immigration Department systems over a period of 11 months during the 2019 pro-democracy protests and unrest. Judge Stanley Chan described her actions as an “outright al-Qaeda-style cyberterrorist act,” according to local media.

“This is the heaviest sentence imposed by a court in a doxxing case so far,” Privacy Commissioner Ada Chung said in a statement. “Doxxing acts can bring very serious legal consequences. The cyber world is not beyond the law. Once again, I urge members of the public not to break the law.”

In a tweet, the police force added that the “court must send out the message that politically-motivated doxxing is NOT condoned.”

Doxxing refers to the malicious publishing of private or identifying data. Both sides of the political spectrum engaged in the practice during the 2019 demonstrations.

Doxxing site remains online

Monday’s sentencing comes as a website targeting democrats and journalists remains online almost two months after HKFP alerted the authorities with media enquires. Since 2019, the “HK Leaks” website has openly maintained an online database of personal data belonging to over 2,000 Hong Kong democrats, protesters and journalists.

The HK Leaks website.
The HK Leaks website.

ID card numbers, headshots, home addresses and phone numbers are often included. Historically, the site has been hosted on Russian servers and promoted by groups linked to the Chinese Communist Party.

When asked in early August if any action would be take against the domain, or whether the site violated existing laws, the Office of the Privacy Commissioner for Personal Data refused to comment on individual cases. However, it said it enforces the law in a “fair and just manner” and that previous incarnations of the site had been removed.

“The website referred to in your enquiry has existed under different domain names. After actions taken by the PCPD, a number of websites having the same name as the website in question have already ceased operation,” a statement said.

Office of the Privacy Commissioner for Personal Data
Office of the Privacy Commissioner for Personal Data. Photo: PCPD, via Wikimedia Commons.

Responding to HKFP, the police also refused to comment on individual cases last month, and did not say whether any action would be taken. However, a spokesperson said the force “will act on the basis of actual circumstances and according to the law.” They added that the cyberworld is not a virtual space beyond the law. “Anyone who commits an unlawful act, whether in the real world or the cyber world, is liable to criminal prosecution.”

Under a new proposed anti-doxxing law, violators could face up to five years behind bars and fines of up to HK$1 million. Under the new rules, the privacy commissioner may also initiate prosecution in doxxing cases and demand a “rectification” of content by serving a notice to online platform service providers.

The government said it made reference to laws in Singapore, New Zealand and Australia in gazetting the legislation, though tech firms have warned that the provisions are too broad.

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Tom founded Hong Kong Free Press in 2015 and is the editor-in-chief. In addition to editing, he is responsible for managing the newsroom and company - including fundraising, recruitment and overseeing HKFP's web presence and ethical guidelines.

He has a BA in Communications and New Media from Leeds University and an MA in Journalism from the University of Hong Kong. He previously led an NGO advocating for domestic worker rights, and has contributed to the BBC, Deutsche Welle, Al-Jazeera and others.