Chinese-language tabloid Apple Daily has obtained a court order to protect its reporters after almost 20 of them had their personal details spread online.
The campaign of leaks, also known as “doxxing”, was conducted on a website apparently set up to oppose the recent anti-government protests in Hong Kong.
The High Court granted the injunction order on Thursday, two days after the city’s privacy commissioner expressed grave concern and requested the website remove all posts and cease the doxxing, saying it amounted to illegal cyberbullying. Police were also alerted.
The order, which will last until October 4, bans anyone from disclosing or publishing the personal details of the staff of Apple Daily, or helping anyone to do so, according to the newspaper’s editor-in-chief Ryan Law Wai-kwong.
It covers publications of names, titles, addresses, email addresses, dates of birth, phone numbers, social media account details and photos.
Cheung Kim-hung, the tabloid’s chief executive, called the doxxing a threat to press freedom.
“Although the so-called doxxing contains all sorts of flawed information, we are still of the view that these acts are unacceptable,” he said. “This is an absolute violation of privacy.”
The Post has learned that some staff had received calls from people who shouted “cockroaches”, a term widely used by the opposition to describe protesters. Others faced sexual harassment.
Some of the numbers appeared to be from mainland China.
It is illegal to disclose, irrespective of intent, any personal data without the person’s consent, if doing so causes them psychological harm. Violators face a maximum fine of HK$1 million (US$128,000) and five years in prison.
Anyone disobeying a court order can be held in contempt of court.
Privacy Commissioner Stephen Wong Kai-yi had expressed concerns about the website, which carried a long list of almost 100 activists, student leaders, journalists and media staff. It was hosted by a Russian domain.
Text on the website read: “We want to know who these people are and why are they messing up Hong Kong.”
Among those doxxed were 18 Apple Daily journalists and staff, along with pro-democracy media mogul Jimmy Lai Chee-ying, who owns the paper. They were called “black journalists” on the website. A reporter from online news portal Stand News was also listed.
Activists and politicians such as Jimmy Sham Tsz-kit, convenor of the Civil Human Rights Front, Joshua Wong Chi-fung and Nathan Law Kwun-chung of Demosisto, and Democratic Party lawmaker Roy Kwong Chun-yu also had their personal information revealed.
Sham, whose group organised three record-breaking marches since the protests started in June, said earlier that no one should be doxxed, regardless of their political views.
Chris Yeung Kin-hing, chairman of the Hong Kong Journalists Association, said on Tuesday that the local media industry was facing an increasing number of threats. “The latest doxxing has shown that there’s an organised effort to target media, which has sparked fear,” he said.