Hong Kong Journalists Plan Petition Against Privacy Law Proposal

Hong Kong journalists plan to publish a petition in five local newspapers today calling on the city’s government to drop a proposed law that would limit access to information about company directors.

Signatures of 1,768 reporters, editors, media teachers and students will be carried on the petition protesting plans to make it more difficult for the public to trace company directors’ home addresses and personal identification numbers, Mak Yin-ting, chairwoman of the Hong Kong Journalists Association, said at a press briefing yesterday.

The Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions is considering a protest march against the proposals, while the Hong Kong Small and Medium Enterprises Association will write to the administration, representatives said at the briefing.

If the bill becomes law, “the free flow of information will be suffocated,” Mak said. “Hong Kong’s claim to be the regional hub of information, as well as a financial center, will be jeopardized.”

The plans, put forward by the Financial Services and the Treasury Bureau and the city’s Companies Registry to “enhance protection of the privacy of personal information,” were proposed in November as part of a consultation paper on a new companies ordinance. The move comes amid growing media scrutiny of the assets of China’s leaders.

Business Relationships

Bloomberg News last year relied on Hong Kong and Chinese identity card numbers contained in filings to chart the business relationships and assets of the families of China’s incoming president, Xi Jinping, ousted Politburo member Bo Xilai and the descendants of veteran revolutionaries, known as the Eight Immortals, who ran China after the death of Mao Zedong in 1976. The New York Times newspaper traced assets owned by the family of outgoing Premier Wen Jiabao, also with the help of Hong Kong records, according to an October article.

Although the effects of the plans are hard to assess, “it definitely damages the reputation of Hong Kong as a free place to trade and do business,” Danny Lau Tat Pong, life honorary chairman of the Small and Medium Enterprises Association, said.

Workers use the registry to find employers that abscond owing wages or redundancy payments, according to Confederation of Trade Unions chief executive officer Mung Siu Tat. The confederation has received more than 500 complaints about unpaid salaries and more than 350 claims relating to overdue redundancy payments in the past two years, he said.

‘Money and Power’

“We are lobbying the political parties to vote against the bill if the government doesn’t change anything,” said Mung. “Unfortunately the government is only listening to the 1 percent of people who hold the most money and power in Hong Kong.”

The petition, organized by the Hong Kong Journalists Association, the Hong Kong Press Photographers Association and Journalism Educators for Press Freedom, is due to be published by Apple Daily, am730, Hong Kong Economic Times, Ming Pao and the South China Morning Post.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.