Hong Kong’s privacy watchdog has arrested a man on suspicion of doxxing, the office’s first criminal enforcement action since it was empowered to investigate and detain suspects. Doxxing – the malicious publishing of private or identifying data – was criminalised in October.

Acting Senior Personal Data Officer Lo Dik-fan. Photo: Stand News screenshot.

A 31-year-old man was arrested by the Office of the Privacy Commissioner for Personal Data in the West Kowloon area following an investigation on Monday, Acting Senior Personal Data Officer Lo Dik-fan told reporters near Cheung Sha Wan police station. The office took enforcement action after receiving a complaint from the victim, he said.

The man, arrested pursuant to Section 64 (3A) of the Personal Data (Privacy) Ordinance, was suspected of doxxing another individual online over a financial dispute, Lo said. The office also confiscated one mobile phone. Lo refused, however, to disclose the types of personal data disclosed or whether the online post had been removed, citing an ongoing investigation.

The man faces a maximum fine of HK$100,000 and two years of imprisonment if convicted.

Photo: Rachel Johnson, via Flickr.

The man is to remain in custody for a maximum of 48 hours, unless bail is granted. He was detained at a police station, as the office has yet to build its own detention facility, Lo said.

The Personal Data (Privacy) Ordinance amendment bill came into effect in early October.

New powers for privacy commissioner

Under the amendments, it is now illegal to disclose personal data of a person obtained without their consent with intent to gain benefits, cause financial or psychological harm, or being reckless as to the potential harm it may cause to the person or their family.

The changes empowered the Privacy Commissioner for Personal Data to launch criminal investigations without referring the case to the police and press charges without going through the Department of Justice.

The authority may access electronic devices without a warrant under “urgent circumstances,” though a warrant is needed for them to enter and search physical premises.

File photo: Tom Grundy/HKFP.

The commissioner may also request online platforms or companies to comply with takedown requests, or face imprisonment of up to two years if they are found guilty of failing to comply.

“The purpose of the new requirement of the ordinance is to control and to punish doxxing acts. If you are doing normal internet activity, [if] you’re not doxxing people, you will not be governed by this ordinance, ” Lo said, adding that one may be held liable also for forwarding or sharing social media posts containing private information, whether in public or in private. “You need to be careful with what you do online.”

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Selina Cheng

Selina Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist who previously worked with HK01, Quartz and AFP Beijing. She also covered the Umbrella Movement for AP and reported for a newspaper in France. Selina has studied investigative reporting at the Columbia Journalism School.