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Saturday, Mar 06, 2021

Hong Kong privacy watchdog wants more power to battle doxxing with online platforms reluctant to cooperate

Privacy commissioner Stephen Wong wants more teeth after struggling to convince overseas websites to act. Wong says he has written 95 letters to 14 online platforms about more than 1,600 links that broke the law in the city
Hong Kong’s privacy commissioner wants greater power to combat doxxing after one online platform only agreed to remove a tenth of links the watchdog had asked it to take down.

Stephen Wong Kai-yi, the privacy commissioner for personal data, said as of Tuesday he had sent 95 letters to 14 online platforms asking them to remove more than 1,600 links that were breaking the law in the city.

Against the background of the anti-government protests sweeping the city, cases of doxxing, which is the posting of an individual’s personal details on the internet for malicious purposes, have increased rapidly, as has cyber bullying.

But Wong noted most of the 14 social media platforms used were not operated or registered in Hong Kong. After local authorities successfully made some websites on doxxing stop running with the help of foreign bodies, the sites used another domain names in other territories to revive themselves.

“One platform has more than 1,000 links that are breaching the law … but in the end, it only agreed to take down 127 links, just 12 per cent,” he said.

Wong wants an amendment to the Personal Data (Privacy) Ordinance to give the watchdog more power, amid claims he is nothing more than a “toothless tiger”.

“For example, the commission could directly issue a ban to order the relevant social platforms or websites to remove or stop uploading content and posts that involved doxxing,” he said.

He wants the watchdog to be given the authority to ask social media platforms to provide the personal details of those publishing illegal messages, such as their names and email addresses.

The watchdog needed to have a legal status to apply for interim injunctions in court to stop acts that caused harm, he said.
Wong’s comments came a week after the city’s High Court granted an interim injunction to help protect police from doxxing, by banning the publication of officers’ personal details for harassment purposes.

Police applied for the court order to counter what they said was the malicious, public display of officers’ personal data, which they said had hurt their families during the more than four months of civil unrest.

Wong said over the past several months, the number of complaints and cases on doxxing and cyberbullying had jumped to 3,373, from dozens received annually in previous years.

He said while it could not identify 1,738 of the victims in the doxxing cases, one-third of the victims involved police officers and their families – the most affected group. Others affected included government officials, protesters, and teachers.

In one case, a photo of a police officer, his wife and his one-year-old son was published on an instant messaging platform with messages to “prepare to use gunny sacks to pick up [the child] from school,” he said. Photos and videos of the boy were also uploaded.

“Stepping in their shoes, it’s not hard to understand their worries,” Wong said. “The difficulties they faced when executing duties and the impact on security in society are believed to be the factors considered in this injunction made and a balance was struck.”

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