A senior member of Hong Kong’s police watchdog said on Thursday that elite anti-riot officers should not be required to show their identification numbers, to avoid their family members’ personal data being exposed.
But Christopher Cheung Wah-fung, vice-chairman of the Independent Police Complaints Council (IPCC), later walked back his comments in the face of criticism, saying people should take their concerns to the force.
On a radio programme on Thursday morning, Cheung was asked whether members of the police Special Tactical Squad, also know as Raptors, should display ID numbers on their uniforms, a question made more urgent by allegations of the officers using excessive force on anti-government protesters since mass protests kicked off in June.
Activists say officers not showing their ID numbers means they escape the possibility of being reported and reprimanded for any misdeeds in the field.
But Cheung said the numbers were not necessary. “When their families and children’s information could be exposed on the internet at any time ... it would be unfair to require them to show everything,” he said. “Those officers have to enforce laws without having to worry about the consequences.”
The comments quickly attracted criticism. Former IPCC member Kenneth Leung said the exposure of private data should not be used as an excuse for non-disclosure.
“The police should look into their internal security problems and find out why the information was leaked,” he said.
Another former IPCC member, Eric Cheung Tat-ming, said: “IPCC chairman Anthony Neoh should clarify whether the vice-chairman’s view represents the body’s.”
He said Christopher Cheung’s remarks could cause the public to be sceptical of the IPCC’s function.
Speaking later on Thursday, Christopher Cheung said he was not saying Raptors should not show ID numbers, only that he worried the information would be misused.
“If residents say Raptors must show their identification numbers, to make it easier for people to file complaints, they should relay that message to the police force,” Cheung said.
In mid-June, Secretary for Security John Lee Ka-chiu revealed that the private data of more than 400 officers and 100 of their family members had been published online. By August 13, the Privacy Commissioner for Personal Data said it had received 557 complaints this year, among which 402 cases, or 72 per cent, involved police officers or those close to them.
Lee previously claimed there was no space on STS uniforms to display ID numbers, but police would look into the issue.
A police spokesman said the force understood public concern over the issue, and would review the matter and act appropriately.
Police officers’ identities were also an issue in Spain in 2013, when protesters complained that riot officers’ numbers were often concealed under bulletproof vests.
Spanish police now wear padded jackets that clearly show their ID numbers on the back.
Protesters have urged the city’s embattled leader Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor to launch an independent judge-led inquiry into the whole controversy, but Lam has insisted an investigation by the IPCC would be sufficient.
Cheung’s remarks came as the police issued a letter of no objection for a march to be held in Kwun Tong on Saturday.
Organiser Ventus Lau Wing-hong said that, apart from calling for the withdrawal of the extradition bill, marchers would call for the government to explain whether people’s privacy would be compromised by planned “smart lamp posts” in Kwun Tong and other places.
In a statement, the Chief Information Officer said the lamp posts would have no facial recognition functions, and are only for collecting traffic, weather and air-quality data.