An attempt to challenge the Hong Kong government’s real-name registration requirement for SIM cards has been launched at the city’s High Court.
Cheung Wun-yiu filed an application for leave to apply for a judicial review on Tuesday over the Telecommunications (Registration of SIM Cards) Regulation, which requires pre-paid and service plan SIM cards users to register their full name, date of birth, and identity card in order to access telecommunications services in Hong Kong.
Judicial reviews are considered by the Court of First Instance and examine the decision-making processes of administrative bodies. Issues under review must be shown to affect the wider public interest.
The regulation became mandatory on February 24.
In the submission, Cheung argued that the regulation was biased as anonymity did not necessarily indicate an intent to commit crime.
“In some cases, disclosure of identity could discourage people to give crime tips or to testify. They need to be protected by anonymity,” the applicant wrote, adding that the scheme might hamper the ability to “fight against” those in power for the weak.
Calling the government’s claim that real-name registration was needed to thwart scammers “puzzling,” the applicant also said that educating residents to be careful of phone scams would be more effective than requiring all users to link their name to their SIM cards.
He suggested amending the regulation to allow people to use SIM cards without registering their identity for six months before disconnecting them.
Upholding law and order
The registration programme was first announced by the government on January 29, 2021, followed by a month of public consultation.
According to the consultation papers, telecommunications companies would set up a database for users’ personal information. Individual users could register up to 10 SIM cards issued by the same telecommunications operator.
In a previous press release, the Commerce & Economic Development Bureau said the real-name registration programme would plug the existing loophole arising from the anonymous nature of SIM cards to assist in the detection of crimes.
Sidney Tsan of the Office of the Communications Authority also said that February that the registration aimed to help safeguard the integrity of telecommunications services and the security of communications networks, as well as law and order.
However, in July 2021, Deputy Director of the Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office Deng Zhonghua cited the registration scheme as one of a series of policies to protect China’s national security.
Despite officials claiming the move was made to plug loopholes, authorities have said roaming SIM cards would not be affected, meaning mobile phone users may still be able to use foreign SIM cards anonymously, according to experts.
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