A Hong Kong press group has apologised for the alleged theft of its members’ personal information, after a Beijing-backed newspaper published shredded documents taken away from the office trash.

The Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA), which has come in for criticism from the city’s security minister, told its members on Saturday that a bag of garbage was suspected to have been stolen from outside its office on September 14.

Ta Kung Pao HKJA trash
A Ta Kung Pao front page report on shredded documents obtained from the office trash of the Hong Kong Journalists Association. Photo: Ta Kung Pao screenshot.

The bag held shredded documents dated 2012 or earlier and related to expired memberships, the organisation said. It contained data on around 150 members, such as names, membership numbers and addresses.

The press union apologised for the incident and said its executive committee had filed a report to the Office of the Privacy Commissioner for Personal Data. The office confirmed with HKJA that its complaint was being processed.

“To ensure that such an incident will not happen again, the HKJA office has also taken immediate action to upgrade the tools it uses to dispose of archival data, which includes replacing its paper shredder to one that is more heavy-duty,” an email from the press group read.

The apology came after Beijing-controlled newspaper Ta Kung Pao published a front-page story on the journalist group on September 23. The report accused the HKJA of refusing to divulge information on members and of destroying evidence after the security minister Chris Tang alleged that the association had been “roping in” student journalists as members.

Policy Address 2021 Chris Tang
Secretary for Security Chris Tang attends the delivery of the Policy Address 2021 in the Legislative Council on October 6, 2021. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

The publication printed scanned paper shreds which it said were obtained by “a reader” from the HKJA’s office trash, including bank deposit notes and a piece of paper that contained the words “student member becomes official member.” No individual names could be made out.

The HKJA said on Saturday that footage from its surveillance camera showed two people behaving suspiciously outside its office at around 5 pm on September 14. One of their employees then noticed that a bag of trash was missing.

Hong Kong Journalists Association. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

In response to HKFP’s enquiries, the HKJA said student journalists were eligible to update their memberships to become full members when they became full-time journalists at a news organisation. It did not give a direct answer as to whether the group filed a police report over the suspected theft.

Police told HKFP that their station in the Wan Chai District, where the HKJA office is located, did not receive any relevant report.

Tang had suggested that the HKJA should make public its members’ information to allay what he called doubts over its professionalism and alleged political bias. But the journalist union said such a move may breach local privacy laws and the security chief should stop making “false’ claims.”

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Kelly Ho has an interest in local politics, education and sports. She formerly worked at South China Morning Post Young Post, where she specialised in reporting on issues related to Hong Kong youth. She has a bachelor's degree in Journalism from the University of Hong Kong, with a second major in Politics and Public Administration.