|LCQ18: Safeguarding the privacy of an individual
Following is a question by the Hon Mrs Regina Ip and a written reply by the Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs, Mr Stephen Lam, in the Legislative Council today (February 3):
It has been reported that a magazine recently published on its front cover some sexy photographs taken clandestinely of a female university student in her home, which has enraged quite a number of members of the public and many of them, in particular women, consider such act an insult to women and infringement of privacy. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council of the policies and legislation in place at present to sanction such act?
In respect of matters related to the publication of articles by newspapers/magazines, such publication of articles is subject to the regulation of the Control of Obscene and Indecent Articles Ordinance (COIAO). According to the COIAO, articles can be classified into three classes. Class I articles are neither obscene nor indecent and may be published without restriction. Class II articles are indecent and must not be published to persons under the age of 18 and, when published, must carry a statutory warning notice and be sealed in a wrapper. Class III articles are obscene and are prohibited from publication. The Obscene Articles Tribunal set up under the COIAO has exclusive jurisdiction to decide on the classification of articles. If the photographs taken clandestinely and published are classified as Class III, or as Class II but have been published not in compliance with statutory requirements, prosecution action would be made in accordance with the COIAO. At present, publication of obscene articles is subject to a maximum penalty of $1 million fine and three years' imprisonment upon conviction. The first conviction for publishing indecent articles not in compliance with statutory requirements may attract a maximum fine of $400,000 and imprisonment for one year, and subsequent conviction may attract a maximum fine of $800,000 and imprisonment for one year.
As regards the protection of privacy, the Basic Law and the Hong Kong Bill of Rights Ordinance provide legal protection for rights of the individual, including privacy rights. Moreover, the Personal Data (Privacy) Ordinance also safeguards the privacy of an individual in respect of personal data.
The Law Reform Commission (LRC) published a report on "Stalking" in 2000, which recommended the introduction of anti-stalking legislation to render the pursuit of a course of conduct causing another person alarm or distress a criminal offence and a civil wrong. In 2006, the LRC published a report on "Privacy: The Regulation of Covert Surveillance", which recommended the creation of two new criminal offences against the obtaining of personal information through trespass into private premises, or by means of a surveillance device.
The LRC reports on privacy are highly controversial. Regarding the LRC report on the regulation of covert surveillance, the Hong Kong media sector and journalists have expressed their worry that the recommendations might compromise press freedom. In determining the way forward, we have to consider very carefully how we can look after press freedom and privacy at the same time.
We shall handle the report on "Stalking" first as there are relatively fewer controversies on regulating stalking behaviours. We are currently studying this report in depth for formulating the way forward, and making preparations for undertaking public consultation on the subject.
Ends/Wednesday, February 3, 2010