HK court allows appeal by city’s largest police group seeking ban on publication of district council voters’ private details

23-Oct-2019 Intellasia | South China Morning Post | 6:02 AM Print This Post

A Hong Kong court has allowed an appeal by the city’s largest police group which sought an immediate ban on voters’ personal details being made public.

In its judgment on Tuesday, the Court of Appeal issued an interim injunction restraining the Electoral Affairs Committee, the chief electoral officer and the electoral registration officer from publishing, or making available for public inspection, the voters’ registry for the district council election on November 24.

The application was brought to the court a day earlier by the Junior Police Officers’ Association (JPOA) in an attempt to overturn the ruling of a lower court, which refused to forbid the publication of the election register, which lists the names and addresses of voters in district council polls.

The temporary order issued on Tuesday would also stop election authorities conveying to either candidates or members of the public any information which would enable someone to link voters’ names with their respective home addresses.

But the appeal court has allowed authorities to supply an extract of the finalised register to candidates, who are validly nominated, for the upcoming election.

Applying for judicial review and an interim injunction at the lower court last Tuesday, the association, which represents more than 20,000 officers, said the urgent bid was meant to combat online doxxing the malicious release of personal details for public harassment against officers and their families.

The court, presided by justices Jeremy Poon Shiu-chor and Johnson Lam Man-hon, was of the view that imposing a temporary ban to limit public access to the finalised voters’ registry, pending the determination of the judicial review proceedings, would not affect the overall integrity or regularity of the district council election.

“We consider a just and fair balance is struck to adequately address the immediate private interest of protecting the privacy of a great majority of the police force… from the real and imminent threat of ongoing doxxing and the immense public interest involved in ensuring the integrity and regularity of the [district council] election,” the judgment reads.

The court also found doxxing “a considerable threat” to the city’s elections, in that it might deter people from exercising their rights to vote under article 26 of the Basic Law the city’s mini-constitution if the names of voters were linked to their residential addresses in the final register.

“We venture to suggest that the government should move quickly to address the problem,” he said.

The order, if granted, would also stop election authorities giving candidates or members of the public any information which would help them link a voter’s name with their home address.

Lawyers for the authorities had earlier hit back at the JPOA application, saying there was no evidence the electoral register was the source of leaked personal details of police officers and their families.

They argued the publication of voters’ names along with their addresses meant people could object to incorrect data and spot corrupt election practices. It also promotes a fair and competitive election by allowing candidates to canvass, they said.

At a closed-door hearing last Wednesday, Justice Anderson Chow Ka-ming dismissed the application on the grounds that privacy concerns of police officers, placed against the importance of a fair election process, did not warrant an immediate injunction. The court heard that six political parties had obtained the full version of the finalised register for the district council elections. Another 26 people, 14 of whom had applied to run for the election, had also acquired extracts of the register before the court proceedings.

In the present judicial review, the judges ruled there is a “sufficiently cogent case” to challenge the provisions in sections 20 and 21 of the Electoral Affairs Commission Regulation, which provide the legal basis for the inspection of the final register and supply of extract, in terms of their potential infringements of the voters’ right to privacy guaranteed by article 14 of the Hong Kong Bill of Rights.

The court found that personal information of police officers and their families have been widely distributed “indiscriminately” across social media platforms, accompanied by abusive remarks, harassment and intimidation, and serious threats of personal safety and even death, some of which were directed against underage children.

Despite the lack of evidence to link doxxing to the misuse of police officers’ personal information obtained from the final register, the judges were of the view that the general availability of the register still poses significant risk of misuse for doxxing purposes.

It is especially so, the court argued, when a person who misused the personal information of a target person may not appreciate the full range of reprehensible attacks that that person may be subject to.

On safeguarding the inegrity of the coming election, the judges said given the final register has been supplied to some political parties and potential candidates, it is only fair to allow all validly nominated candidates to acquire an extract relevant to their own constituency.

The judges rejected claims that the openness of the forthcomig election will be prejudiced by an injunctive order restraining public access to both the name and home address of voters.

They also dismissed notion that the injunction would weaken public vigilance on election malpractice such as vote rigging.

Instead, they said candidates or their political parties and supporters should be the first to vigilantly monitor the election process, rather than the public.

“We do not think it can be seriously suggested that the electoral authority relies exclusively or heavily on the public to detect election malpractice.”


Category: Hong Kong

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