A Hong Kong man who disclosed the personal details of an ex-girlfriend online has been jailed for eight months, the first sentencing under a tougher amended anti-doxxing law approved in the wake of the 2019 protests.

Ho Muk-wah, 27, appeared at Sha Tin Magistrates’ Court on Thursday. He had earlier pleaded guilty to seven doxxing charges.

Shatin Law Courts Building, Shatin Magistrates' Courts
Shatin Magistrates’ Courts. Photo: Peter Lee/HKFP.

Handing down the sentence, Acting Principal Magistrate David Cheung said the case was a “serious” one, with Ho publicising the victim’s personal information on different social media apps “one after the other” with the intention of bringing harm to her and her family.

He added that a community service order or a suspended sentence would not be suitable, and a deterrent sentence was needed.

According to the Office of the Privacy Commissioner for Personal Data, Ho had a short relationship with the victim before breaking up. In October last year he disclosed the victim’s personal details on four social media platforms, including her photos, address, phone numbers and other information.

PCPD Office of the Privacy Commissioner for Personal Data
The Office of the Privacy Commissioner for Personal Data. File photo: Peter Lee/HKFP.

Ho also opened social media accounts on three of those social media platforms in which he impersonated the victim and welcomed strangers to visit her home.

He was arrested in June.

‘Sincerely repentant’

The defence said Ho was was “sincerely repentant” for his actions and had now learned to manage his emotions better.

The 27-year-old had performed well in school and in university, during which he was awarded an outstanding students’ award, his lawyer said, adding that the incident was “out of character.”

Cheung, however, brought up the victim’s trauma report and said she was left “troubled” by the incident. She had been forced to change jobs and remove all her social media accounts, and also had to deal with the guilt of her family members being affected.

Instagram icon stock photo
Instagram. File photo: Yuri Samoilov, via Flickr.

“The court cannot ignore the harm that was done to the victim and her family, so the court must consider this and… deliver a sentence that is proportional [to that harm],” Cheung said.

Court ruling ‘welcomed’

Hong Kong amended a law criminalising doxxing – the non-consensual disclosure of others’ personal data – in September last year following the protests and unrest in 2019, during which both sides of the political spectrum leaked others’ personal details online.

The amendment empowered the city’s privacy commissioner to make arrests and launch criminal investigations without referring the case to police. The privacy commissioner may also demand a “rectification” of content by serving a notice to online platform service providers.

Ho’s case, however, was not related to politics.

Lo Dik-fan
Lo Dik-fan, a senior officer at the Office of the Privacy Commissioner for Personal Data, addresses reporters outside Sha Tin Magistrates’ Court on Dec. 15, 2022. Photo: Hillary Leung/HKFP.

Addressing reporters outside the court on Thursday, Lo Dik-fan, a senior officer at the Office of the Privacy Commissioner for Personal Data, said the office welcomed the court’s ruling.

“The PCPD hopes to… remind citizens that they should use legal means to resolve disputes. Doxxing is not only illegal and immoral, it is also not a solution to problems,” Lo said.

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Hillary Leung

Hillary has an interest in social issues and politics. Previously, she reported on Asia broadly - including on Hong Kong's 2019 protests - for TIME Magazine and covered local news at Coconuts Hong Kong.