Following is a question by the Hon Albert Ho and a reply by the Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs, Mr Raymond Tam, in the Legislative Council today (December 14):
Recently, there has been widespread media coverage that there were quite a number of suspected vote-rigging cases in the District Council (DC) Election held on 6th of last month. The Audit Commission stated in the Report No. 47 of the Director of Audit published in October 2006 that "without verifying the residential addresses of electors, there is insufficient evidence to ensure the accuracy of the GC (geographical constituencies) final registers. In extreme cases, the fairness of an election may be impaired due to possible vote planting", and recommended that the Registration and Electoral Office (REO) should implement a checking system to verify the residential addresses of registered electors recorded in the electoral register on a sampling basis. REO responded that a checking system would have resource implications, and that assessment would be made before deciding on the appropriate way to take forward the audit recommendation. Further, REO would match the elector records with the information kept by the Immigration Department and the Housing Department for address updating purpose, and it had approached quite a number of government departments to explore the feasibility of concerted efforts in data matching. Those government departments had expressed concerns that the transfer of personal data might contravene the privacy law and other legal provisions, but REO would continue to study such possibilities in data matching. In this connection, will the Executive Authorities inform this Council:
(a) of the number of complaints on suspected vote-rigging received since the DC Election last month; the number of written enquiries issued by REO; the respective numbers of investigations made by the Police and the Independent Commission Against Corruption, as well as the progress of such investigations;
(b) whether it has implemented the recommendation made by the Audit Commission five years ago to verify the residential addresses of registered electors on a sampling basis; if it has, of the details and resources involved; if not, the reasons for that; and
(c) whether it has assessed how REO and other government departments could avoid contravening the privacy law and other legal provisions in matching the data of electors; of the progress of the assessment; whether it has conducted the aforesaid data matching exercise; if not, the reasons for that?
(a) Since the 2011 District Council Election until December 9, 2011, the Electoral Registration officer (ERO) had received around fifty complaints. After preliminary investigation, the complaints involved around 1 800 electors. No further action could be taken to around 650 electors because no prima facie evidence was found indicating that they do not reside in the registered addresses, or because the information provided in the complaint was not sufficient for follow-up. During the same period, the ERO issued a total of 885 letters of inquiry requesting the electors concerned to provide address proof, and to prove that they still reside in the registered addresses. If the letters cannot be delivered and returned, or the electors concerned do not provide valid address proof before the deadline specified in the letters, the ERO will refer the cases to law enforcement agencies for investigation.
According to section 22(1) of the Electoral Affairs Commission (Registration of Electors) (Legislative Council Geographical Constituencies) (District Council Constituencies) Regulation (Cap 541), any person who, when applying for registration as an elector, makes any statement which the person knows to be false in a material particular or recklessly makes any statement which is incorrect in a material particular or knowingly omits any material particular from such an application, response, reply, request or notice commits an offence. According to section 16(1)(b) of the Elections (Corrupt and Illegal Conduct) Ordinance (Cap 554), a person engages in corrupt conduct at an election if the person votes at the election after having given to an electoral officer information that the person knew to be materially false or misleading, or knowingly omitted to give material information to an electoral officer, recklessly given to an electoral officer information that was materially false or misleading.
As at December 6, 2011, the Police has received thirty-eight complaints on breach of the relevant legislation, and arrested eight persons. As at December 5, 2011, the Independent Commission Against Corruption has received twenty-seven complaints on breach of the relevant legislation, and arrested twenty-three persons.
(b) In response to the recommendations in the Report No. 47 of the Director of Audit, the ERO examines the final register (FR) every year and identifies all the registered addresses with seven or more electors. Except for justified and verified cases such as elderly homes, the ERO will make telephone or written enquiries to the electors concerned requesting them to confirm their address records. If an elector confirms that he has already moved out of the address or the letter issued to him cannot be delivered, the ERO will include the elector in the inquiry process in the voter registration (VR) cycle. If the elector fails to provide such written confirmation or update his residential address before the deadline specified in the inquiry letter, his name will be put on the OL to be published in the VR cycle.
Since 2006/07, the ERO has checked a total of 2 250 addresses with seven or more electors, involving around 29 000 electors. At present, the Registration and Electoral Office carries out the checking and investigation work with the existing resources and staff.
(c) According to section 6(1) of the Regulation I mentioned earlier, for the purpose of preparing a register, the ERO may require a public authority to furnish such information as that ERO may specify.
According to section 30(1)(a) and (b) of the Personal Data (Privacy) Ordinance (Cap 486), a data user shall not carry out a matching procedure unless and until each individual who is a data subject of the personal data the subject of that procedure has given his prescribed consent to the procedure being carried out, or unless and until the Commissioner has consented under section 32 to the procedure being carried out.
The ERO has explored the possibility of carrying out cross-matching of information with a number of Government departments. At present, with the consent of the Privacy Commissioner for Personal Data, the ERO conducts a cross-matching exercise with the Housing Department, Hong Kong Housing Society and Home Affairs Department every year concerning the addresses of registered electors. Also, as a standing arrangement with the Immigration Department, the ERO matches the addresses of registered electors with addresses of the applicants for the smart identity cards, with the consent of the individuals concerned.
In making these arrangements, the ERO has observed the requirement of the Personal Data (Privacy) Ordinance.
Ends/Wednesday, December 14, 2011