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SCMA's response to media questions on protection of personal data (English only)

    Following is the transcript of the remarks made by the Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs, Mr Stephen Lam, in response to media questions after attending the Legislative Council meeting this (June 11) morning (English only):

Reporter: We have just had another case of unauthorised loss or leakage of personal data. Is it clear right now that we need to do something to strengthen the Personal Data (Privacy) Ordinance?

Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs: Ever since the Privacy Commissioner's Office was established in 1996 and the implementation of the relevant ordinance has begun, the awareness in Hong Kong about the need to protect personal data has been raised very considerably. Also, the relevant policy bureaux and departments of the Government are very vigilant in bringing up these standards and in enforcing the law. So far as we are concerned, the Privacy Commissioner has relevant powers and authorities under the ordinance to initiate investigations, to conduct formal investigations, and to review personal data systems of Government departments.

Reporter: You said you are improving, but there is a case weekly or every other day. It doesn't look like it's getting stronger.

Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs: I would say and emphasise that public awareness, including the awareness of Government departments, about the need to protect personal data has indeed been raised in the last 12 years. Also, we now have systems in place regarding the protection of personal data and a need to inform data subjects if their data have to be released. But so far as we are concerned, we have given extra resources to the Privacy Commissioner to conduct public education and to do compliance checks. For 2008/09, they have $39 million as their annual budget. This is the highest in recent years. And if there is a need for a special financial allocation to help them deal with cases which have arisen in recent months, the Administration will be prepared to discuss with the Privacy Commissioner and to consider making available such a special provision.

Reporter: Just this week, there was an agreement reached between the Privacy Commissioner and the Director of Immigration on the handling of personal data, and the Privacy Commissioner said he would hope that the principles reached there could be applied government-wide.

Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs: The Government has every commitment to enhance data protection for our citizens. As far as the Privacy Commissioner is concerned, he has the Government's support in enforcing the ordinance and in enhancing the standards which we keep in this Government.

Reporter: Any hope that these principles reached with the Director of Immigration will be applied government-wide?

Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs: I am sure that the Privacy Commissioner will be able to discuss with the relevant policy bureaux, departments and public authorities which are being investigated with regard to specific cases of complaints which have arisen in recent months. And I am sure that the agreements which he has reached with the Immigration Department will be relevant in terms of dealing with such cases.

Reporter: It sounds like you are not very interested in giving the Privacy Commissioner more power.

Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs: The Privacy Commissioner's powers and authorities are prescribed by law. This Administration has every intention of supporting the Privacy Commissioner in enforcing the law. Also, we are in discussions with the Privacy Commissioner's Office on how we could consider reviewing the relevant ordinance. As far as we are concerned, the Privacy Commissioner has put forth certain matters of fundamental importance, such as criminalising the leakage of personal data and allowing the Privacy Commissioner to initiate prosecutions. These ideas are of fundamental importance. If personal data leakage is to be criminalised, this will affect a lot of data users and organisations. This is not a step which we will take lightly.

Ends/Wednesday, June 11, 2008