|LCQ9:Communication channels between Members returned by LegCo functional constituencies and their electors
Following is a question by the Hon Tam Heung-man and a written reply by the Secretary for Constitutional Affairs, Mr Stephen Lam, in the Legislative Council today (November 22):
Regarding the communication channels between Members returned by Legislative Council ("LegCo") functional constituencies ("FC") and their electors, will the Government inform this Council:
(a) as a subsidiary legislation of the Electoral Affairs Commission Ordinance stipulates that no person is allowed to use any information relating to a person contained in a register or an extract from such a register for any purpose unrelated to an election, whether it will consider amending the subsidiary legislation concerned to allow LegCo FC Members to use such information while they are in office for communication with their electors (such as sending newsletters on their work in the legislature);
(b) given that there is a professional body which refuses to send, on behalf of a LegCo Member returned by the FC to which the body belongs, newsletters to its members for the reason that such an act, without the prescribed consent of the data subject to use his personal data for this purpose, might contravene a data protection principle under the Personal Data (Privacy) Ordinance, whether it knows if the Privacy Commissioner for Personal Data will issue guidelines or formulate other measures to facilitate LegCo FC Members to communicate with their electors; and
(c) whether it will formulate measures to facilitate the communication between LegCo FC Members and their electors; if it will, of the details of such measures; if not, the reasons for that?
(a) According to section 21 of the Electoral Affairs Commission (Registration of Electors) (Legislative Council Geographical Constituencies) (District Council Constituencies) Regulation (Cap 541, sub leg A) and section 41 of the Electoral Affairs Commission (Registration) (Electors for Legislative Council Functional Constituencies) (Voters for Election Committee Subsectors) (Members of Election Committee) Regulation (Cap 541, sub leg B), both made by the Electoral Affairs Commission ("EAC"), the Electoral Registration Officer may make available an extract from any published register of electors "for any purpose related to an election", to any person that Officer considers appropriate. The Regulations further provide that it is an offence to use any information relating to a person contained in a register or an extract from such a register "for a purpose other than a purpose related to an election". The above provisions aim at striking a balance between two considerations, ie the need to provide basic information on electors to interested parties (such as candidates and the political groups or parties which support them) to facilitate the planning and conduct of election-related activities on the one hand, and the need to protect personal data and the privacy of electors on the other.
If the information contained in a voter register were to be released to Legislative Council ("LegCo") Members while they are in office for their communication with electors (such as sending newsletters on their work in LegCo), and if such communication were not for any purpose related to an election, then the law would need to be amended. Since a voter register carries the names and addresses of electors, any proposal to amend the law must be considered very carefully. In particular, issues relating to the need to protect personal data and the privacy of electors must be thoroughly addressed. We have no current plans to introduce any legislative amendments in this regard.
(b) The Personal Data (Privacy) Ordinance ("the Ordinance") protects privacy of individuals in relation to personal data. A data user shall not do an act, or engage in a practice, that contravenes the data protection principles set out in Schedule 1 of the Ordinance, unless the act or practice is permitted under the Ordinance. Data Protection Principle 3 (use limitation principle) requires that personal data shall not, without the prescribed consent of the data subject, be used for any purposes other than those for which the data were to be used at the time of collection, or a directly related purpose. With regard to the case in question, it is essentially a matter for the professional body as the data user to determine whether to use or not to use the personal data held by it for any particular purpose, having regard to the need to comply with the requirements of the Ordinance.
To promote awareness of and compliance with the provisions of the Ordinance, the Privacy Commissioner has issued a number of leaflets and guidance notes to the public on the provisions of the Ordinance, including the use limitation principle.
(c) The remuneration package for LegCo Members includes, amongst other components, an allowance for operating expenses reimbursements ("OER") and other one-off provisions. The OER can be used to cover expenses for the running of Members' offices, staff expenses and other support services. Moreover, there is an item under the one-off provisions for LegCo Members for setting up their offices. In addition, the Administration makes available to each LegCo Member a central office free of rent.
The above resources are available to LegCo Members returned by geographical constituencies and functional constituencies alike to facilitate the carrying out of their work, including communication with their constituents. It is for individual Members to decide how such resources are to be deployed to further their work.
Ends/Wednesday, November 22, 2006