Hong Kong judge rejects police group’s bid for private details of district council voters to be taken off public register to combat harassment of officers

Brian Wong

Hong Kong’s top court dismissed an urgent application on Wednesday from the city’s largest police group to shield the details of all district council voters from public view.

But at the closed-door hearing, High Court judge Mr Justice Anderson Chow Ka-ming issued a temporary ban on public inspection of the register for the upcoming district council election until 4.30pm on Friday, the deadline for the Junior Police Officers’ Association to lodge an appeal, the Post has learned.

Chow had refused to issue an interim injunction sought by the association to tackle the online doxxing of police officers and their families. Lam Chi-wai, chairman of the association, said he would consult lawyers and refrain from commenting on the ruling at this stage.

Lam Chi-wai (centre), of the Junior Police Officers’ Association, wants to see his members protected from doxxing, which involves the spread of personal information online. Photo: Dickson Lee

According to the notice of application filed on Tuesday, the association had asked the court to stop the Electoral Affairs Commission, the Chief Electoral Officer and the Electoral Registration Officer publishing registers for open search, that allowed members of the public to link the names of district council voters with their respective residential addresses.

They also requested the court ordered the retrieval of all copies of registers supplied to candidates for the election, and any other persons, within 48 hours of such an injunction taking effect.

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Represented by Messrs Li & Partners, the police group had said the present practice “involves a significant degree of interference to the privacy of the electors ... and their families”, which enabled people with malicious intent to publish the home addresses of police officers and the full names of family members who lived with them.

Arguing the current practice violated Article 14 of the Hong Kong Bill of Rights, the police association said: “The disclosure of the principal residential address of each elector is plainly a contravention of the right to the electors' privacy and the privacy of his home.”

They cited a doxxing group on messaging app Telegram – widely used by some of the city’s protesters – and said private information of a vast amount of police officers and their families were made known to some 150,000 users, making them vulnerable to violence, harassment and threats.

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“Allowing access by the public and candidates of both the full name and residential address of electors is not logically related to any conceivable legitimate aim,” the association argued.

“There are clearly significantly less intrusive and equally effective measures than the one employed.”

While the register might assist political parties and the media to identify potential vote-rigging schemes by checking whether a large number of voters had been registered at the same address, the association argued the authorities only needed to provide a list of addresses without linking them to specific voters.

Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Patrick Nip says he wants to amend the law so that candidates for the upcoming election do not have to provide residential addresses. Photo: Nora Tam

This remedial measure also applied to the candidates, the association said, who needed the register to distribute election materials.

Insofar as the register might help voters verify its accuracy, the association argued it was not necessary to disclose such information to the public at large.

Instead, it would be sufficient for the authorities to provide a list of voters’ names together with their relevant constituency, without matching their names to their respective addresses.

The Electoral Affairs Commission Regulation states that the chief electoral officer must make available for public inspection a copy of the voters’ register in every district council election, which has to set out the voters’ names and residential addresses.

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Members of the public may inspect the final version of the register in full by personally applying to the Registration and Electoral Office in Wan Chai. They may also file requests to the respective Home Affairs Enquiry Centre at the city’s 18 districts to view the respective districts’ parts.

Responding to the threat of doxxing attacks by internet users, Patrick Nip Tak-kuen, Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs, said on Saturday the government would amend the law so that eligible candidates for the upcoming district council election could provide addresses of their workplace or an external postbox instead of their residence for contact purposes.

This article Hong Kong judge rejects police group’s bid for private details of district council voters to be taken off public register to combat harassment of officers first appeared on South China Morning Post

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