The government’s new system alerting vehicle owners to searches on their vehicles could be rolled out to other public data resources, including land and company searches, according to Chief Executive Carrie Lam speaking ahead of her weekly ExCo meeting today.
This week Transport Department (TD) launched a new “alert” service which emails vehicle owners when their vehicle licence details are searched. The emails include the name of the searcher and the reason for the search.
“I can tell you that other departments which possess public registers are reviewing along the same line,” said Lam when asked about the new service.
Lam said the new TD system “is no more than just to alert the person that somebody has checked your personal data. That’s it.”
But in fact the TD alert service not only alerts vehicle owners to the search but also sends the name of the searcher to the relevant vehicle owner. Journalists and journalist groups have expressed dismay at the development, claiming it will undermine the media.
Lam pooh-poohed such ideas. “I really don’t see how this will undermine the work of the media and hence I do not see why media should be exempted from the administrative procedure that the Transport Department has put in place,” she said.
The Chief Executive highlighted car licences, land transactions and the company registry as specific public data resources having issues with data privacy. “We have to understand the purpose of allowing members of public to inspect these personal data … whether it is a car license or they do a land transaction or they register a company so they have these personal data with us,” she said.
“As a government body we have to be responsible in ensuring the privacy of these persons, especially after what we have seen in the past one to two years that many people, when inspecting these public registers, got hold of the personal data and did all sorts of intimidation, doxxing that would harm the people,” said Lam.
Non-registered users can, at present, search for company information but must state their purpose for the search. Most company information costs at least HK$13 per item to access, while a month-long backlog of document processing and closed Company Registry counters means many updated company documents cannot be seen.
Meanwhile Lands Department information is already quite tightly controlled – journalists were denied access to detailed building records relating to a deadly fire in Yau Ma Tei in November 2020, for example.
And a furore developed over limitations to TD’s vehicle licence data access last year when journalist Choy Yuk-ling was charged with making false statements while investigating the ownership of a vehicle she thought to be involved with organised crime.