Journalists and investigators probing Hong Kong’s vehicle database will no longer be able to search in confidence, with the government now alerting vehicle owners to a search on their vehicle while also disclosing vital personal data about the searcher.
Launched on 2 January, the new government service sends an email alert to subscribed vehicle owners if their data is accessed, with an email providing the name of the searcher, the reason for searching and the date of the search.
A Transport Department (TD) spokeswoman says the government is “striving to balance” data access with data protection. She said as vehicle data may be used for illegal or improper purposes, “some registered car owners had lodged a request with the Department to increase the protection of their personal data.”
Fourteen vehicle owners applied for the free email alert service in the first two days of its operation, says the spokeswoman.
The new service comes just two months after the arrest of an RTHK journalist, Choy Yuk-ling, 37, who was charged with making false statements to TD while investigating the ownership of a vehicle she thought to be involved with organised crime.
At a hearing rescheduling her trial to January, Choy said it was common practice for journalists to search for information on cars, vehicles and land.
Four lawmakers, who have since resigned their seats, had demanded answers from the Transport Department. Kwok Ka-ki, Dennis Kwok Wing-hang, Alvin Yeung and Jeremy Tam Man-ho wrote to the chairman of the Transport Panel Frankie Yick Chi-ming, saying that Choy’s arrest had “shocked” the press, and that a new version of TD form TD318, which restricts journalists’ use of TD information to transport purposes only, “hinders the free working of the press granted by Basic Law”.
In response, the government said form TD318 had not changed substantially, and that even the old form had a disclaimer that “personal data provided by a certificate of particulars of vehicle should only be used for activities relating to traffic and transport matters”.
Choy will appear in court on 14 January.