Senior Assistant Secretary (2) 2
I. Confirmation of minutes of meetings and matters arising
(LegCo Paper Nos. CB(2)459, 479, 645 and 824/96-97)
The minutes of meetings on 10 and 14 October, 1 November, and 6 December 1996 were confirmed.
II. Date and items for discussion for next meeting
(LegCo Paper No. CB(2) 748/96-97(10))
Members agreed that the following would be discussed at the next meeting to be held on Thursday, 23 January 1997 immediately after the Governors Time (at about 3:45 pm) -
- "Development of information superhighway and Internet in Hong Kong" - The Administration would respond to views of deputations on the subject given at this and the last meetings. The deputations were welcome to sit in on the meeting.
- "Policy in handling the press" - Members noted the complaint from the Oriental Press Group Ltd dated 18 December 1996 to the LegCo Panels on Information Policy and Security (Copy at LegCo Paper No. CB(2) 809/96-97). They agreed with Assistant Legal Adviser 4 that, as the concerned reporter of Oriental Daily News had been charged with common assault and the related legal proceedings were underway, the Panel would discuss the Government policy in handling the press in such incidents rather than the individual complaint case. The Chief Editor of Oriental Press Group Ltd who wrote to the Panel on the complaint case, representatives of the press associations (viz. Hong Kong News Executives Association, Hong Kong Press Photographers Association, Hong Kong Journalists Association and Hong Kong Federation of Journalists) and the Administration, including the Security Branch and Police Force, would be invited to attend the meeting on this subject.
The Chairman also reminded members that a special joint meeting with the Security Panel on the Law Reform Commission report on "Privacy : Regulating Surveillance and the Interception of Communications" would be held on Thursday, 16 January 1997 at 4:45 pm.
III. Development of information superhighway and Internet in Hong Kong
The Chairman welcomed deputations and representatives of the Administration to the meeting and thanked them for their interest in the subject. She then invited the following deputations to present their views.
Views of the University of Hong Kong (HKU)
(LegCo Paper No. CB(2) 748/96-97(01))
Representatives of HKU considered that it was essential for education that the next generation in Hong Kong was information literate (not computer literate). They then briefed members on their submission and highlighted the following -
- It would help the international physical infrastructure greatly if removal of the international communications monopoly could be advanced to reduce international connection costs.
- All students in Hong Kong should have their own computers and educational institutions should change their focus away from purchasing large numbers of personal computers, to putting the connection infrastructure in place.
- As regards charging, there was the need to consider special education rates if institutions were to be all linked up.
- The Government should not be involved in implementation of censoring but focus on education of the public regarding the content available and responsible use.
- It was essential that the Government put all its fine words about access to government information into practice by ensuring that, whenever possible, the information was available over the Internet.
- As regards data protection, Hong Kong already had a state-of-the-art law. The major remaining difficulty was that the Internet often involved cross-border data flows to countries which might have little data protection.
- It was vital that the public, and particularly the young, were educated regarding the functionality, advantages and risks of using the Internet. This would require curriculum development at all levels as well as public education. The excellent infrastructure in Hong Kong could only reach its full potential if people understood how to take full advantage of what was available to make Hong Kong a more competitive and educated place.
- As regards protection of privacy on the Internet, Hong Kong should insist on the right to use encryption free from US interference.
- It was essential for education that there were adequate "free use" covering all aspects of copyright. The new copyright law proposals might have important implications on education as "fair use" would not extend to parts of sound or film recordings.
Views of the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK)
(LegCo Paper No. CB(2) 748/96-97(02))
Representatives of CUHK took members through their submission and highlighted the following -
In the development of the information superhighway, the Government had three major roles -
- As an active facilitator for the information superhighway through budgeting, planning and co-ordination.
- As a benefactor and user of the information superhighway through the adoption of information technology for various services.
- As a regulatory arbiter to create a fair and neutral environment where services could be provided to all users and where competition could occur among service providers.
- Both the Internet and the notion of information superhighway started in US. It was worthwhile to learn from the three observations of US experience at para 4.0 of CUHKs submission.
- It had been argued that the information superhighway was not purely a commercial function that the Government could regulate altogether to the commercial sector. Fairness of access to and social priorities should be taken into account besides commercial interests. The Government had a central and irreplaceable responsibility to ensure the superiority of Hong Kongs social infrastructure and commercial competitiveness.
- CUHK believed the development of the information superhighway for Hong Kong was extremely urgent and important for the future of Hong Kong. Furthermore, the technology based on the Internet was feasible, available, and cost effective. CUHK therefore urged the Government to take a proactive approach in this matter, either by the establishment of a high level advisory panel to assist the Government in formulating a development strategy, or to delegate the task to a neutral agency with adequate funding to stimulate and to co-ordinate the development of the information superhighway for Hong Kong.
Views of the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST)
(LegCo Paper No. CB(2) 748/96-97(03))
Representatives of HKUST went over their submission and made the following recommendations regarding the Internet and information superhighway respectively -
- There should be as few restrictions as possible on censorship, charges, and operation policies. HKUST supported the recent announcement of complaint-driven censorship.
- Government-sponsored access to the Internet should be made available to secondary schools as it did now for universities.
- The Government should consider establishing "Freenet" for Hong Kong citizens, probably with industry sponsorship, based on the Intranet technology. This allowed more citizens to freely interact with government bodies and with each other, and enjoy many of the benefits brought about by the Internet.
- The Government should upgrade the University Grants Committee (UGC) trans-Pacific link from the current T1 (1.5 Mbps) speed to at least T3 (45 Mbps).
- The Government should actively participate in the Asian Pacific Advanced Network (APAN) and other initiatives, in particular formulation of a policy on the training of specialists in computers and computer networks, to position itself as the information "hub" in Asia. HKUST was able and willing to assist in such a training initiative.
- The Government should solicit industrial support in building an Intranet linking most institutions, corporations and organisations in Hong Kong, and providing free access to its citizens.
Regarding the estimated costs for providing "Freenet" service mentioned at para. 7 (c) above, HKUST pointed out that, based on the experience of operating Hong Kong Supernet (which was an Internet service provider), the provision of one T3, a service and maintenance centre, and 5,000 phone lines supporting 1 million Internet accounts required an initial investment of about $45 million and an annual operation cost of about $200 million.
Views of the Hong Kong Polytechnic University (HKPU)
(LegCo Paper No. CB(2) 748/96-97(04))
Representatives of HKPU presented their submission and highlighted their views on the following three issues -
Re-engineering of education
- Education was the last industry to automate. As tertiary education shifted from providing a single career-starting leg-up to becoming a life-long career and life-enhancing experience, information technologies would be required to adjust educational paradigms in line with the demands of a new breed of students who would expect to engage in learning on-demand without sacrificing time on the job. The Internet made this a reality. In addition, economies of scale could be engaged which exploited the Internets potential for providing quality learning experiences that did not depend on expensive and inefficient classroom resources.
- Educational institutions drew students from narrow geographic boundaries. On the Internet, there were no limits to student location. Students complained of lectures with growing audiences, sometimes numbering in the hundreds. The Internet carried the potential for "de-massifying" the student-teacher encounter, whilst simultaneously allowing for a massive increase in the student-teacher ratio. The economies of scale could co-exist with the benefits of personalisation. Teaching and learning paradigms had been stuck in the same mode for centuries. Previous technologies had not delivered the promised revolution in educational methods because they did not support the new paradigms which were required for education to re-engineer itself. The Internet did.
Publishing of research results
- The pace of scientific research had accelerated as a result of the Internet. Researchers in educational institutions often waited a year or more to see their results in print. Electronic publishing reduced the wait to hours. Accessing the results of previous research could require a drawn out and frustrating process involving multiple institutions in multiple countries. On the Internet, it was merely a few clicks away.
- Publishing concerns would try to inhibit Internet publishing which threatened their grip on information.
Funding for research work
- Tertiary institutions should examine ways of using the Internet for the benefit of the community. Educating the community for high-impact applications should be a priority. Electronic commerce and re-engineering of education were prime examples. There should be funding for research on education role of Internet so that all educational institutions could differentiate between what worked and what did not when developing learning programmes which made use of network educational technologies, in particular the Internet.
Views of the City University of Hong Kong (CityU)
(LegCo Paper No. CB(2) 748/96-97(05))
Representative of CityU highlighted the following points -
- Internet had become a major source of information and it was used as general facility for research, teaching, and study by the University community. With the increasing popularity of Internet and rapid technology advancement, the Government should provide more funds to subsidise the use of Internet for research and academic purposes.
- CityU supported HKUs suggestion that all students in Hong Kong should have their own computers connected to the Internet.
- Regarding the data-carrier mode for Internet communication, CityU considered that cable television networks showed the greatest potential for future Internet connection in view of their wide coverage and high-volume data transmission capacity, although such a service was not yet commercially available in Hong Kong.
- In view of the increasing use of the Internet by the business community and the general public, the Government should formulate a clear policy on development of the Internet in Hong Kong. The Government should emphasize on education of the public regarding the content available and responsible use rather than monitoring the use of or information on the Internet.
Views of the Hong Kong Baptist University (HKBU)
(LegCo Paper No. CB(2) 748/96-97(06))
Representative of HKBU said that his submission, whilst agreed by the President of HKBU, had not been endorsed by the University Senate. He highlighted the following points -
- The Government should provide an open and level playing field for the private sector to participate in the provision of such international communications. The Government should relax restrictions on such provision. Example of this was the removal of the international communications monopoly.
- HKBU was concerned about abuses (such as distribution of pornography) which the new Internet medium lent itself.
- Although the Internet medium was different from traditional media such as printer publishing or television, the existing body of laws and regulations which governed these more traditional media should be applied to the Internet. More specifically, the current body of laws and regulations regarding distribution of pornography, copyright laws, privacy laws, libel laws, laws regarding fraud, etc., should be adapted to communications using the new Internet medium.
- The Government should take immediate actions in the following priority -
- Schools (primarily secondary schools) should be provided with computers connected to the Internet.
- The Government should formulate an internal information infrastructure policy to enhance delivery of government service to the community through the Internet.
Views of the Vocational Training Council (VTC)
(LegCo Paper No. CB(2) 748/96-97(07))
Representatives of VTC highlighted the following -
- Owing to resource constraints, VTC could not provide every student with Internet services.
- VTC was offering courses on the setting up of Internet, designing of Homepages and managing and developing Internet and Intranet systems within an organization to equip students with the technical knowledge of Internet. VTC was constantly reviewing all its courses to ensure that the latest technological advancement and development on Internet was incorporated into its curriculum. In addition, VTC also aimed to teach students to adopt the Internet as an alternative to regular texts and library facilities to supplement their learning process.
- The Government should provide more funds to allow students of VTC and schools (primary and secondary) to have access to the Internet or, as an alternative, extend the existing Internet service provided by UGC-funded HARNET (the Hong Kong Academic and Research Network) to VTC and schools.
- There were some key issues which needed to be resolved to enable the full potential of Internet to the realized. The most important was security. The second important issue was the problem of bandwidth. Finally, the Government should play a key role by introducing legislation governing the proper usage of Internet and the protection of the users information.
Views of the Regional Council (RC)
(LegCo Paper No. CB(2) 748/96-97(08))
Representatives of RC presented the following points -
- RC libraries played a key role in providing public access to the Internet, particularly to those members of the public who did not have personal or institutional computers to access the network or electronic information services.
- With effect from September 1996, the RC library home page had been set up on the World Wide Web. The page provided useful on-line information on RC library services outlined in para 11 of the RC paper.
- RC would explore the following for enhancing its service to the public through the Internet -
- feasibility of providing booking of RCs recreation and sports facilities and programmes;
- feasibility of providing ticket reservation on the Internet for programmes held in RC venues; and
- distribution of application forms.
Views of the Urban Council (UC)
(LegCo Paper No. CB(2) 748/96-97(09))
Representatives of UC highlighted UCs new incentives on the use of the Internet at para 8-10 of its paper. They pointed out that proposals relating to the further use of the Internet in UC libraries had been included in the UC Libraries Select Committee Draft Five-year Plan, which had been issued for public consultation. Recognising the benefits and potential capability of the information superhighway and the Internet in the marketing and delivery of services, UC considered the Internet a strategic technology tool and had made it an explicit policy to further promote its use in the UC Five Year Information Technology (IT) Development Plan. In the future deployment of IT applications, especially those with direct interface with the public, "Internet-readiness" would be an explicit requirement.
Views of the Privacy Commissioner for Personal Data (PCPD)
(LegCo Paper No. CB(2) 618/96-97(07))
PCPD pointed out that, while his Office would monitor the various cyberspace initiatives underway in Hong Kong with respect to privacy implications, he believed that the telecommunications industry should formulate guidelines or codes of practice to ensure that the proliferation of such telecoms services was balanced with appropriate safeguards for personal privacy. In this connection, he looked forward to working with the Government, in particular the Office of the Telecommunications Authority, and representative bodies of the telecoms industry, such as the Hong Kong Internet Service Providers Association, to formulate the relevant codes of practice. The public could lodge complaints in relation to breaches of the provisions of the Personal Data (Privacy) Ordinance to his Office which would take appropriate actions to protect privacy of individuals.
Indexing of information on the Internet
A member raised the question of the need for information grading as a result of increasing traffic on the information superhighway. Representatives of HKUST pointed out that researches were being conducted on enhancing the quality of indexing and searching information on the Internet. Availability of topic-oriented search facilities could enhance accuracy in accessing the desired information on the Internet.
Health hazards to students in the prolonged use of the computer
A member was also concerned about possible health hazards to students in the prolonged use of the computer. Representatives of HKPU said that there were research projects in US on addictive behaviour of students working with computers but there was no similar project conducted in Hong Kong.
Control of information on/access to the Internet
On the question of regulating obscene and indecent materials transmitted through the Internet, HKU opined that total control was not possible and people could have other alternatives to have access to these materials. HKPU agreed with HKU that the Government should not be involved in censorship of information on the Internet but should focus on educating the public in the proper use of the Internet. HKBU reiterated that the regulatory measures should be similar to those applying to other mass media. HKPU considered that the proposed regulatory framework put forward by the Broadcasting, Culture and Sport (BCS) Branch adopted an "act on complaint" approach which was also used in dealing with other mass media. As such the proposal might not adversely affect transmission of information on the Internet. The Chairman requested representatives of the Administration to relay the views expressed to BCS Branch with a view to responding at the next meeting.
CUHK opined that if the Internet became an essential medium of communications of the public and private sectors, the Government would (for economic reasons) be less likely to exercise control of access to the Internet. HKUST pointed out that in view of the vast volumes of information transmitted on the Internet anonymously and at extremely high speed, it was extremely difficult to control the downloading of materials transmitted through the Internet. CityU took the view that as it was not possible to control all data-carrier modes available for Internet communication, there were difficulties in controlling Internet connection. Nevertheless, monitoring of Internet service provision (the Internet service was now dominated by a few large-sized Internet service providers in US and was centrally provided by its government-run bureau in Taiwan) might be possible. The Privacy Commissioner for Personal Data opined that the Government should focus on protection of rights of the public and private sectors in relation to personal data. A member considered that the requirement for Internet service to be provided under the Public Non-exclusive Telecommunications Services (PNETS) Licence was a form of control on the Internet. Whilst monitoring of Internet service providers was possible, it was difficult to monitor use of the Internet.
Education on Internet
Another member opined that education was important in the development of information superhighway and Internet in Hong Kong. He took the view that the curriculum on computer studies, which was reviewed by the Government on a five-year basis, lagged behind technological development. In this connection, he would like to have deputations views on -
- ways to raise interests of students studying computer science who were not required to take the subject of computer studies in secondary schools; and
- the convergence between secondary and tertiary curriculum on computer studies.
HKU reiterated that information literacy, rather than computer literacy, was important for education. It was also important to integrate the use of computer into different ways and modes of learning. University students already made use of computers in most of the courses they took. Changing the attitude of school teachers, rather than curriculum contents, was imminent. Training of school teachers in computer studies was therefore very important.
UGC had supported a number of studies on the integration of the use of information technology into teaching and learning, and had provided specific funding support for upgrading the Hong Kong Academic and Research Network (HARNET) and associated Hong Kong/USA telecommunications link to T1 speed. The issue of convergence between secondary and tertiary curricular had been raised in the UGCs recently published report "Higher Education in Hong Kong". The report suggested a need for more communication between secondary and tertiary teachers. UGC suggested that other tertiary education institutions viz. the Hong Kong Institute of Education, the Open Learning Institute of Hong Kong and the Academy for Performing Arts, should also be invited for their views to the Panel. The Chairman agreed to invite the views of the three institutions and asked the Clerk to provide them with the papers and minutes of the Panel meetings on the subject.
CUHK pointed out that a network named "SchoolNet" was being provided by CUHK to assist secondary schools in Hong Kong to connect to Internet. There were facilities in the network to screen out materials which were not suitable for students, e.g., indecent and obscene information.
Hong Kong Information Technology Federation suggested the establishment of an Information Society Adult Education Task Force, which could be funded by the public and private sectors, to educate the following groups of people on the information superhighway and Internet -
- special groups including legislators, media practitioners, civil servants, school principals, teachers and executives in the private sector; and
- the general public.
Funding for education on Internet
VTC pointed out that additional funds were required for the establishment of VTCs own network to provide Internet connection for its staff and students. Representative of HKBU personally considered that universities should allocate a larger portion of their funds to Internet service provision rather than bidding for additional UGC funds on such provision. HKBU held seminars for school administrators on the provision of Internet service in schools. He considered that use of the Internet in schools was not a curriculum issue. As such funding for education on Internet in schools should be tied to providing enhanced educational environment for students in schools rather than to curriculum contents. HKU took the view that the Education Department which was the funding body for schools did not quite understand the important role of information technology on education. HKU opined that funds should be provided for education on Internet in all schools (including kindergartens, primary and secondary schools).
CUHK pointed out that lower funds would be required for schools to connect to Internet if the existing telephone network was used. More funds (in the order of hundreds million dollars) would be required if transmission via optic fibre, which was more advanced than that used in US, was adopted. The Education Department declined to sponsor CUHKs project "SchoolNet" because there was no funding for Internet-related project as it was not on the curriculum. In US funds were available for education on Internet in schools. CityU said that it conducted a project to assist schools to connect to the Internet through CityUs network. CityU also organised seminars on use of the Internet for school teachers. Despite interest in the subject, school teachers were unable to have access to the Internet in schools as school computers were fully utilized for other teaching purposes. School principals were generally reluctant to promote education on Internet in schools as this subject was not on the curriculum and there was no government policy to encourage Internet education.
On the question of the estimated cost for the provision of free Internet accounts to all secondary school students, HKUST pointed out that funds in the order of tens of million dollars were required for the provision of Internet communications via local network in Hong Kong. A T3 line for Internet communications via overseas network with other countries/territories would be at an annual rental of over $100 million.
The Chairman requested representative of the Education Department to consider deputations views and respond at the next meeting. She said that the Research and Library Services Division of the LegCo Secretariat was conducting a research project on Overseas National Information Infrastructure Policies with a view to presenting the project report at the next meeting.
The meeting ended at 12:50 pm.
17 February 1997
Last Updated on 20 August 1998