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LCQ13: Protection of privacy

     Following is a question by the Hon Audrey Eu and a written reply by the Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs, Mr Stephen Lam, in the Legislative Council today (November 10):

Question :

     The Law Reform Commission (LRC) released the Report on Civil Liability for Invasion of Privacy and the Report on Privacy and Media Intrusion in late 2004, recommending that legislation be introduced for the protection of people's civil right of "reasonable expectation of privacy"; the Legislative Council also passed a motion on "introducing legislation to regulate clandestine photo-taking" on October 19, 2006, yet, there are comments that so far there is no improvement to the problem of intrusion of privacy. In mid-June this year, the incident of clandestine photo-taking of a female artiste and her mother at home once again roused public concern about protection of the privacy of public figures. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(a) what measures the Government has taken to enhance protection of the privacy of members of the public since the release of the aforesaid LRC reports;

(b) whether there is any plan to protect the reasonable expectation of privacy of members of the public by means of civil law; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that; and

(c) whether there is any plan to, by means of civil law, restrict the unwarranted publicity given by any person to the private life of another person; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that?


Mr President,

     The Government is committed to protecting the privacy of members of the public. In the light of social development and the growing public concern over the protection of personal data privacy, the Government, with the support of the Privacy Commissioner for Personal Data (PCPD), has conducted a comprehensive review of the Personal Data (Privacy) Ordinance (PDPO) enacted more than ten years ago, and issued a consultation document last year to gauge public views on the proposals arising from the review. After considering the public views received, we published a public consultation report (consultation report) in the middle of last month and put forward a number of legislative proposals to strengthen personal data privacy protection, including the introduction of new offences and sanctions as well as proposals to raise the penalty for existing offences.

     As regards the Law Reform Commission (LRC)'s Report on Civil Liability for Invasion of Privacy and Report on Privacy and Media Intrusion, there were mixed responses and divergent views in the community. The proposed recommendations of the two reports were highly contentious and involved a number of complicated legal concepts (e.g., the definitions of "reasonable expectation of privacy" and "unwarranted publicity given to the private life of another person"). When deciding the way forward, we need to reach a consensus in the community and strike a balance between different rights such as rights to personal privacy and freedom of the press.

     Among the LRC reports on privacy, the report on "stalking" is comparatively less controversial. Hence, we will first deal with that report. The report proposed the introduction of legislation in order to render the pursuit of a course of conduct causing another person alarm or distress a criminal offence and a civil wrong. We are examining the report and will cautiously consider those proposals which may impact on press freedom. We are also examining latest developments on overseas legislation such as how they regulate collective harassment. As an important step to follow up on the LRC report, we will make practical preparation for conducting public consultation in the coming few months. We plan to launch a consultation exercise in mid-2011.

     As regards existing legislation, a data subject who suffers damage by reason of a contravention of a requirement under the PDPO by a data user in relation to his personal data is entitled to compensation from that data user under Section 66 of the PDPO. He may also consider seeking an injunction order to halt acts of privacy intrusion.

     To provide assistance to aggrieved data subjects, we have proposed in the abovementioned consultation report to empower the PCPD to provide legal assistance to an aggrieved data subject who intends to institute legal proceedings against a data user to seek compensation under Section 66 of the PDPO. The assistance to be provided includes the provision of legal advice and arranging for legal representation. This will help strengthen the protection of personal data privacy.

Ends/Wednesday, November 10, 2010