LegCo Paper No. CB(2) 2220/95-96
(These minutes have been seen by the Administration)
Ref : CB2/PL/RC, CB2/PL/IP

LegCo Panel on Recreation and Culture
LegCo Panel on Information Policy

Minutes of Joint Meeting held on Monday, 22 July 1996 at 4:30 p.m.
in the Chamber of the Legislative Council Building

Members Present :

LegCo Panel on Information Policy
Hon Emily LAU Wai-hing (Chairman)
Hon Bruce LIU Sing-lee (Deputy Chairman)
Hon LEUNG Yiu-chung

LegCo Panel on Recreation and Culture
Hon Mrs Elizabeth WONG, CBE, ISO, JP (Chairman) *
Hon Lawrence YUM Sin-ling (Deputy Chairman)
Hon Howard YOUNG, JP
Hon Andrew CHENG Kar-foo *
Hon SIN Chung-kai

Members Absent :

LegCo Panel on Recreation and Culture
Hon Mrs Selina CHOW, OBE, JP
Dr Hon Philip WONG Yu-hong
Hon Christine LOH Kung-wai *
Hon Paul CHENG Ming-fun
Hon CHEUNG Hon-chung
Hon MOK Ying-fan
Hon NGAN Kam-chuen

(* Also Member of Information Policy Panel)

Members Attending :

    Hon LEE Kai-ming

Public Officers Attending :

Mr Parrish NG
Principal Assistant Secretary for
Broadcasting, Culture and Sport
(Film and Entertainment)
Commissioner for Television and
Entertainment Licensing
Acting Senior Assistant Director
Office of the Telecommunications Authority

Attendance by Invitation :

Internet Community
Miss Samantha HON
General Manager
Business Development & Management
Hong Kong Telecom IMS
Mr Charles MOK
General Manager
HK Net Co Ltd
Mr Daniel NG
Hong Kong Star Internet Limited
Mr Johnson CHENG
Managing Director
Worldlink Communication Ltd

Hong Kong Development and Strategic Research Centre
Mr Mathias WOO
Mr Ringo LAM

Staff in Attendance :

Miss Connie FUNG
Assistant Legal Adviser 3
Mr Stephen LAM
Assistant Legal Adviser 4
Mrs Anna LO
Chief Assistant Secretary (2) 2
Mr Raymond LAM
Senior Assistant Secretary (2) 6

I. Election of Chairman

Miss Emily LAU, Chairman of LegCo Panel on Information Policy, was elected Chairman of this joint meeting.

II. The Administration’s consultation paper on "Regulation of obscene and indecent materials transmitted through the Internet"

(LegCo Paper Nos. CB(2) 1851, 1901 and 1912/95-96)

Meeting with the Administration

2. At the invitation of the Chairman, Mr Parrish NG briefed Members on the paper provided by the Administration (LegCo Paper No. CB(2) 1851/95-96). He stated that the purpose of the public consultation exercise was to gauge the public’s views on the initial proposals stated in the paper. He informed Members that the Administration had recently met with more than 18 Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to gauge their views on the subject. Another meeting with ISPs on technical aspects was scheduled for the following Friday. All the views gathered in the public consultation exercise would be carefully considered before determining the way forward. The Administration hoped that legislative amendments, if to be introduced, would be passed through LegCo within the 1996/97 legislative session. The Control of Obscene and Indecent Articles Ordinance (COIAO) was mainly directed at the print media, thus there might be difficulty in applying it to materials transmitted on the Internet. Mr P T CHEUNG added that the Administration had no intention to expand the scope of COIAO. The legislative amendments were only intended to establish beyond doubt that the control of obscene and indecent materials transmitted on the Internet is within the ambit of COIAO. In response to Members, he stated that the proposed regulatory body was expected to formulate its code of practice, establish mechanisms to receive complaints, and carry out investigations. Legal actions would only be taken by the Administration when the instructions of the regulatory body to block sites of obscene materials were disregarded.

3. In response to Mr Howard YOUNG, Mr M H AU stated that as a step to control access to indecent materials, Internet users would be required to input the Personal Identification Number, mentioned in paragraph 8 of the Administration’s paper, as part of the logging-in process.

4. As regards whether ISPs’ membership in the proposed regulatory body was compulsory, Mr P T CHEUNG stated that the Administration had not formed a view on the issue.

5. In response to Mr LEUNG Yiu-chung, Mr Parrish NG stated that, in making reference to overseas experience, it was noted that many overseas countries were still in the process of developing their monitoring mechanisms or legislation. He pointed out that the standards of morality, decency and propriety and the legal system in Hong Kong might be different from those in other overseas countries. The proposals in the consultation paper were a continuation of the Administration’s work on the control of obscene and indecent articles. He stressed that all the views received in the public consultation exercise would be carefully examined.

6. Mr M H AU commented that the filtering softwares proposed by ISPs might not be effective in every case, as some parents might not be computer literate. Other alternatives of tackling the problem should also be explored.

Meeting with Deputations

Internet Community

7. Miss Samantha HON presented the submission of the Internet Community (LegCo Paper No. CB(2) 1901/95-96). She stated that the Internet Community was not supportive of the proposals in the Administration’s consultation paper and doubted whether some of the proposals could be implemented in practice. As content providers were scattered around the world, it was practically very difficult for the regulatory body to control materials on the Internet or carry out investigations. She doubted the feasibility of specifying obscene sites for blocking by ISPs and commented that filtering of sites should be left to the end-users.

8. In response to Mr LEUNG Yiu-chung’s question on self-regulation in the industry, Miss HON stated that materials uploaded onto the Internet through ISPs could be monitored by ISPs, while materials not uploaded by ISPs were beyond their control. In this connection, campaigns would be launched to promote the healthiness of contents and use of filtering software.

9. Mr Charles MOK commented that commercial ISPs had been singled out in the issue. He added that universities were also major ISPs. A recent survey revealed that only one out of ten young people had accessed indecent materials on the Internet as a large number of young people were computer illiterate. The idea of allowing ISPs to determine what was "obscene" might not be acceptable to the community. It was also difficult for ISPs to weigh personal privacy against right of access to information.

Hong Kong Development and Strategic Research Centre (HKDSRC)

10. Mr Mathias WOO highlighted the salient points of the submission of HKDSRC (LegCo Paper No. CB(2) 1912/95-96) and commented that the Administration was hasty in introducing the consultation paper. He suggested the Administration to consider overseas experience in the control of indecent materials on the Internet. As ISPs were not involved in the production of materials, content providers should be held responsible for the materials transmitted. He added that the terms "obscene" and "indecent" should be clearly defined to avoid abuse. Mr Ringo LAM added that the Administration’s paper was restrictive on the way forward. He stated that control could be achieved without censorship. In the United States, obscene information on the Internet was controlled through the non-government Recreational Software Advisory Council without introducing legislation. He stated that the Administration should not totally rely on ISPs, as some smaller ISPs were found to have deliberately publicised the address of indecent web sites.

11. In response, Mr P T CHEUNG stated that the Administration was taking prompt steps to introduce the consultation paper because there was a need to respond quickly to the rapid development of the Internet. The Administration was aware of the need for public education and it had obtained overseas experience on the Internet. He added that under the existing COIAO, people such as newspaper and magazine retailers, who were not content providers, were also liable for the sale of indecent publications. In the same way, the Administration considered that ISPs should be responsible for the content of materials transmitted.

Members’ views

12. Mr Bruce LIU commented that Government intervention or control should be kept to a minimum and ISPs should be allowed to regulate themselves. There was not much coverage on the legislative aspects in the consultation paper. He added that regulation of contents should not be carried out by the Administration. In response, Mr Parrish NG explained that the paper was intended to be as simple as possible. The Administration would carefully consider the views received in the public consultation exercise before deciding on the way forward.

13. As regards whether the existing COIAO was adequate to deal with materials transmitted through the Internet, Mr Stephen LAM stated that according to the definition of "article" under the COIAO, it was difficult to take legal actions against obscene and indecent information on the Internet. Mr P T CHEUNG remarked that it was very difficult to use the existing COIAO to prosecute Internet content providers. Legislative amendments were thus necessary.

14. Mr Andrew CHENG suggested that in introducing legislative amendments to the COIAO, the Administration should also introduce amendments to clearly define the terms "obscene" and "indecent". In response, Mr Parrish NG stated that legislative amendments, if to be introduced, would not cover definitions of "obscene" and "indecent". To his knowledge, the Secretary for Broadcasting, Culture and Sport had considered Mr CHENG’s views and agreed to review the issue.

15. Mrs Elizabeth WONG stated her opposition to the proposals in the consultative document. She said that the licensing system might possibly be abused to prevent entry into the industry. The existence of over one million web sites over the world would make it practically impossible to exercise control. She suggested the setting up of an advisory group to provide education and information to users. In response, Mr P T CHEUNG stated that the licensing system was not intended to prevent entry into the industry. The proposal in the consultation paper was drawn up with a view to keeping Government intervention to a minimum. While obscene and indecent materials on the Internet was currently not a serious problem, the Administration envisaged that the problem would worsen when charging for services provided on the Internet became an accepted practice.

16. Mr LEUNG Yiu-chung commented that Government intervention should be kept to a minimum and expressed support for the establishment of a non-government advisory body.

17. Mr SIN Chung-kai commented that ISPs should not be regulated by licensing. He added that the problem of the Internet content was not so serious as perceived by the Administration; and it was dangerous to delegate the authority of screening contents to ISPs. The roles of relevant Policy Branches in the issue should also be clarified. He supported the view that an advisory committee should be formed to handle the issue. In response, Mr P T CHEUNG stated that using licensing system to regulate ISPs was an option which had already been ruled out. The Administration was not suggesting ISPs to screen the contents. It was only suggesting ISPs to carry out investigations when complaints were received. An important consideration was whether pornographic material unacceptable under the COIAO should be allowed just because it was published through the Internet.

18. The Chairman suggested the Administration to consider whether universities should be classified as ISPs. She suggested the Administration to report back to the Panels, if it intended to proceed with the proposals, after the consultation exercise.

19. The meeting ended at 6:45 p.m.

LegCo Secretariat
30 September 1996

Last Updated on 20 Aug, 1998