LegCo Paper No. CB(2) 479/96-97
(The minutes have been seen by the Administration)
Ref : CB2/PL/IP

LegCo Panel on Information Policy

Minutes of Meeting
held on Monday, 14 October 1996 at 2:30 p.m.
in Conference Room B of the Legislative Council Building

Members Present :

    Hon Emily LAU Wai-hing (Chairman)
    Hon Andrew CHENG Kar-foo
    Hon LEUNG Yiu-chung
    Hon Bruce LIU Sing-lee
    Hon Mrs Elizabeth WONG, CBE, ISO, JP
    Hon Lawrence YUM Sin-ling

Public Officers Attending :

Item III

Mr Alex FONG
Deputy Secretary
Security Branch
Mr Philip CHAN
Principal Assistant Secretary
Security Branch
Mr Jeremy C Croft
Principal Assistant Secretary
Home Affairs Branch

Item IV
Mr Jeremy C Croft
Principal Assistant Secretary
Home Affairs Branch
Ms Ingrid HO
Principal Assistant Secretary
Security Branch

Item V
>Mr Stephen LAU
Privacy Commissioner for Personal Data
Mr Robin McLeish
Deputy Privacy Commissioner for Personal Data

Clerk in Attendance :

Mrs Anna LO
Chief Assistant Secretary (2) 2

Staff in Attendance :

Mr Colin CHUI
Senior Assistant Secretary (2) 2

I. Confirmation of minutes of meeting and matters arising

(LegCo Paper No.CB(2) 105/96-97)

The minutes of meeting held on 2 October 1996 were confirmed.

II. Date and items for discussion for next meeting

(Appendix I to LegCO Paper No.CB(2) 103/96-97)

2. Members agreed that the next meeting would be held on Friday, 1 November 1996 at 10:45 a.m. to discuss the following issues:

  1. Access to government information. The Panel would like to know the latest development on the implementation of the Code on Access to Information and uploading of government information onto Internet. Members were also interested to know about the delivery of government services through the Internet and education on Internet in schools. In a wider perspective, they would like to be briefed on the government policy on the development of information super-highway and Internet in Hong Kong. The discussion on information super-highway and Internet in Hong Kong would be deferred to the meeting on 6 December 1996 if the Administration required more time to prepare for the discussion.

    (Post-meeting note: The discussion on information super-highway and Internet in Hong Kong was deferred to the meeting on 6 December 1996.)

  2. Difficulties faced by local journalists working in China. Members were interested to know the supporting services and assistance given to journalists whilst on duty outside Hong Kong, particularly in China.

    (Post-meeting note: The Chairman decided to add an item "Freedom of expression after 1997" on the agenda in the light of the remarks made by the Chinese Vice-Premier and Foreign Minister, Qian Qichen, in an interview with Asian Wall Street Journal on 16 October 1996.)

III. Review of legislation having an impact on press freedom

(Appendix II to LegCo Paper No. CB(2) 103/96-97)

Official Secrets Bill and Crimes (Amendment) Bill

3. Responding to the Chairman, Mr Alex FONG stated that the progress report on the draft bills at Appendix II to LegCo Paper No. CB(2)103/96-97 had already been conveyed to Members in reply to questions raised at the Governor’s Question Time and policy briefing by the Secretary for Security held on 3 and 7 October 1996 respectively. There was no further development of the draft bills since then.

4. In response to Mr Andrew CHENG’s question, Mr FONG stated that the Official Secrets Bill, being different from the Crimes (Amendment) Bill, was part of the exercise on localisation of laws. The two bills could therefore be dealt with separately. As the two bills were being studied by the Joint Liaison Group (JLG), the Administration was not in a position to disclose details of the bills which were subject to JLG’s confidentiality principle.

5. Mr FONG pointed out that the position on the two bills remained the same as that stated at the Panel meeting held on 5 July 1996. The Administration aimed to reach agreement with China on the bills as soon as possible. However, if consensus could not be reached with the Chinese side, the Administration would explain to the public the circumstances of the disagreement.

6. Members were concerned about the lack of progress on the draft bills. With only nine months before the transfer of sovereignty, the Panel was of the unanimous view that a concrete timetable should be set. In this connection, members proposed that, if consensus could not be reached with the Chinese side on the draft bills by January 1997, the Administration should explain to the public the circumstances of the disagreement and gazette the bills for introduction to the LegCo.

This would enable the bills to be scrutinized before 1 July 1997. The Panel agreed to put forward the proposal to the House Committee for consideration.

(Post-meeting note: The Panel’s proposal was endorsed at the House Committee meeting held on 18 October 1996 and the Chairman of the House Committee wrote to the Chief Secretary accordingly.)

Interception of Telecommunications and Mail

7. Members noted the Administration’s progress report on the issue of interception of telecommunications and mail and requested the Administration to put forward legislative proposals on the issue to the LegCo at the earliest possible date.

IV. Progress on the case of XI Yang

(Appendix III to LegCo Paper No. CB(2) 103/96-97)

8. Referring to para. 2 of Appendix III to LegCo Paper No. CB(2) 103/96-97, Mr LEUNG Yiu-chung enquired the follow-up to the Chief Secretary’s letter of April to Mr LU Ping. Mr Jeremy CROFT responded that the New China News Agency had since publically stated that Mr XI was in good health and his conditions in prison were acceptable. The question of Mr XI’s term of prison was raised when the Secretary of State met Vice Premier Qian Qichen in New York in September 1996. The Administration had conveyed members’ concern about Mr XI’s health to the Chinese authorities.

9. Mrs Elizabeth WONG asked whether the British and Hong Kong Governments’ concern on Mr XI’ case would adversely affect him. Mr CROFT replied that the two Governments would continue to act in consultation with Mr XI’s family and would not do anything to jeopardise Mr XI’s circumstances. They would continue to convey the feelings of Hong Kong people on Mr XI’s case to the Chinese authorities.

10. In reply to Mr Andrew CHENG’s question, Mr CROFT understood that the original seven regulations for Hong Kong journalists on assignments in China had been reduced to three but still included the requirement to seek prior approval from the Chinese authorities for the visit and the topics to be covered. The British and Hong Kong Governments had conveyed to the Chinese authorities the journalists’ request for lifting all reporting restrictions for Hong Kong journalists on assignments in China. The Chairman pointed out that the issue of difficulties faced by local journalists working in China would be further discussed at the next meeting to which the Administration and the press associations would be invited.


V. Meeting with the Privacy Commissioner for Personal Data

(Appendix IV to LegCo Paper No. CB(2) 103/96-97)

Commencement of the Ordinance

11. Mr Stephen LAU stated that the Personal Data (Privacy) Ordinance (Cap.486) (the Ordinance) would be brought into force by the end of 1996 and the commencement date had yet to be appointed.

Retrospective effect of the Ordinance

12. Mr Robin McLeish pointed out that the Ordinance would not take retrospective effect on acts/practices which ceased to exist after its commencement. Acts/practices continuing to exist or taking effect after its commencement would be subject to the Ordinance which had transitional provisions applicable to acts/practices relating to some employment-related personal data.

Enquiries and complaints

13. Mr LAU agreed with Mr Andrew CHENG that easily-remembered telephone hotline numbers should be used. In reply to the Chairman’s enquiry, he stated that the time taken for substantive replies to complainants depended on the complexity of individual cases.

Public access to criminal charge sheets

14. Regarding the Judiciary’s recent decision not to allow public access to criminal charge sheets, Mr LAU pointed out that he had not been consulted before the decision was made and was only approached by the Judiciary on the issue on the day of the Panel meeting. He understood from the Judiciary that the charge sheets were used for administrative purposes. But he noted an opinion that, under an open justice system, the charge sheets could serve a purpose of revealing information about the defendants and their charges to the public. His preliminary view was that, even if there was public access to criminal charge cheets, it was doubtful whether the identity card numbers and addresses of the defendants should be disclosed to the public. In this connection, he welcomed views from the public and the press on the issue.

15. The Chairman opined that the issue reflected a lack of communication between the Judiciary and the Office of the Privacy Commissioner for Personal data (the Office). She requested Mr LAU to sort out the matter with the Judiciary Administrator and avoid similar problems recurring in other governments departments. Mr LAU responded that the Office would strengthen education and publicity campaigns to promote awareness and understanding of the Ordinance; and assist government departments and the public in complying with its provisions.

Public access to personal data in public registers

16. Mr Bruce LIU was concerned that public access to personal data in public registers such as those in the Land Registry and the Marriage Registry might be used for other purposes like locating debtors by loan sharks. Mr LAU responded that public access to these registers was statutory requirement, e.g. a marriage application was accessible to members of the public who could raise objection to it. If personal data obtained from any source were used for direct marketing purposes, the data were protected under a provision of the Ordinance to the effect that, at the first time the data were so used, a data subject would be provided with an opt-out option which, if he so requested, barred a data user from using the data again.

Disclosure of credit card holders’ personal data

17. Mr Andrew CHENG was concerned that some credit card issuers obtained, before the commencement of the Ordinance, card holders’ general consent to disclosure of all information to unspecified persons who might include debt collectors. Mr LAU undertook to examine whether such an all-encompassing general consent was against the spirit of the Ordinance. He added that a working group of the Hong Kong Monetary Authority and the banking industry was drafting a Code of Banking Practice which contained, inter alia, guidelines on debt collection and requirements for referees in credit card applications.

Examination of legislation

18. The Chairman was concerned whether the Privacy Commissioner’s existing resources were sufficient for discharging the duty to examine proposed legislation (item 6 of Annex 1 of Appendix IV to LegCo Paper No. CB(2) 103/96-97). Mr LAU responded that he would review the resources requirement in the light of experience. He added that the Ordinance took precedence over other existing laws which were in conflict with it. He would also examine specific laws brought to his attention for suspected breaches of the provisions of the Ordinance; and suggest amendments to be made to the laws which were found to be inconsistent with the Ordinance.

Personal identifiers

19. Mr LAU pointed out that he was required under the Ordinance to approve a code of practice regarding the use of personal identifiers. Such code was necessary in view of the pervasive use of personal identifiers like the Hong Kong Permanent Identity Card number. The code would provide users of personal identifiers with practical guidance for compliance with the provisions of the Ordinance.

Promotion and public education campaign

20. In response to Mr Bruce LIU’s comments, Mr LAU agreed that promotion of the Ordinance was important and would consider more vivid ways to publicise the rights and obligations of individuals under the Ordinance and the work of the Office.

Liaison with data users

21. Responding to Mr LIU’s concern, Mr LAU stated that the Office would contact District Boards and grassroot organisations for promoting and giving guidance on compliance with the Ordinance.

22. The meeting ended at 4:15 p.m.

LegCo Secretariat
21 November 1996

Last Updated on 20 August 1998