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SCMA speaks on privacy awareness (English only)

     The Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs, Mr Stephen Lam, officiated at the inauguration ceremony of the Privacy Awareness Week 2008 this (August 25) afternoon. Following is the transcript of his speech (English only):

Commissioner Woo, friends, ladies and gentlemen,

     I am really delighted and honoured to be invited to join you for today’s event to mark the inception of the Privacy Awareness Week 2008 in Hong Kong, along with other members in the Asia Pacific Region. I believe that over the years our Privacy Commission and the colleagues of the Commission, together with your support, have done great work to promote privacy awareness and instilled a culture of personal data protection in Hong Kong.

     Today, I would like to put across to you three important policy directions of the HKSAR Government in this regard.

     Firstly, as an open and free society, Hong Kong is firmly committed to the protection of human rights, including the protection of personal data.

     Secondly, Hong Kong was one of the first among the Asia Pacific communities to enact legislation and to establish an office of the Privacy Commissioner. We have every intention of maintaining our leading position in this regard.

     Thirdly, the HKSAR Government will continue to take practical measures and action to protect personal data.

     Now, coming back to the first point, as a free and open society, whether you are a professional, a member of the media, or a student, day in, day out, as a member of the Hong Kong community, we are all involved in some form of personal data transaction. We offer our personal data to all sorts of organisations for processing.  And that is why it is of utmost importance that the Government, other public sector organisations, private sector organisations, acquire and value this culture of personal data awareness and protection. And, in that regard, the week of events in Hong Kong sends an important message.

     I still remember, Commissioner, you invited me to offer a message last year. And this year, I am very pleased to be able to join you. I heard from the Commissioner just now that our young people have done so well, that they have won the championship of this international video competition.

     This logo (of the Privacy Awareness Week) speaks volumes about the importance which Asia Pacific communities place on personal data protection. It’s very colourful, very lively, very youthful, and it fits Hong Kong very well. And, that is why, on the first point, as a free and open society, we value and protect personal data.

     Now, secondly, on the principle of maintaining our lead in the Asia Pacific community on privacy protection, the Commissioner and his colleagues have done excellent work in reviewing the current Ordinance and the protection which the current provisions can offer to the Hong Kong community. We, in the policy bureau, have been working together with the Commissioner and his colleagues to map out the parameters for the policy and legislative review. We intend to take forward this review during the term of the fourth Legislative Council. And we want very much to ensure that Hong Kong will continue to stay abreast of technical and other developments in the privacy world. Hong Kong is very modern. All sorts of transactions happen here: IT, international finance, cross-boundary trading. All these activities involve the use of personal data. In conducting this review, we have to ensure that we keep one important principle of balance. On the one hand, personal data must be protected. On the other, we must ensure that Hong Kong continues to work efficiently under a regime of the rule of law. And that is why, in conducting this legislative review, we must ensure that we will continue to abide by the principles of personal data protection. But also we have to maintain consistency with the Basic Law. We have to ensure that, for example, prosecution decisions taken in the arena of personal data protection will be consistent with the principle that criminal prosecutions are conducted by the Department of Justice. We have to ensure that penalties stipulated in the Ordinance will carry sufficient deterrent force, and yet, will be fair to those who have to abide by the law. These are some of the fundamental considerations which we will need to take into account.

     Finally, on the principle of taking positive actions to support privacy protection, since assuming policy responsibility for human rights in July 2007, I and my colleagues - including the Permanent Secretary, the Under-Secretary and our directorate staff, have enjoyed a close working relationship with the Privacy Commissioner and his colleagues. We have met on a number of occasions to take stock of the policy and statutory review which I have mentioned just now. We have also been able to allocate over $39 million for the annual budget for 2008/09 to the Privacy Commission. This is an all time high for the last nine years.

     But moving on, there are new challenges. The Commissioner referred to a spate of leakage of personal data among both public and private organisations. I am sure that the captains of the industry and the top policy administrators of the Government will all to do their utmost and will continue to make a contribution to personal data privacy protection in Hong Kong.

     So, Commissioner, my final word will be very simple - we all support you and your colleagues in working for the betterment of the Hong Kong community. Thank you very much.

Ends/Monday, August 25, 2008