Hong Kong Law & Crime

Shareholder activist takes on privacy watchdog ‘to defend HK media freedom’

Financial commentator and shareholder activist David Webb is appealing against the Privacy Commissioner’s order to censor reports on his online publication Webb-site Reports.

Webb, who campaigns for increased transparency and public accountability, has announced that he launched the appeal “to defend” media freedom in Hong Kong.

Webb-site’s statement said that, if the order were upheld, its implications “would have a chilling effect on publication[s]” in the city, as the Commissioner would have the power to remove articles after receiving complaints. The appeal will be heard publicly before the Administrative Appeals Board on July 13.

David Webb. Photo: Apple Daily.

David Webb. Photo: Apple Daily.

The Privacy Commissioner ordered Webb to remove three reports containing the names of parties involved in family lawsuits in 2014. The order came following a complaint from Luciana Wong Wai-lan. Wong sits on a number of statutory bodies such as the Advisory Committee on the Quality of Water Supplies. 

The information in the reports was obtained from judgments published on the judiciary’s website following open hearings between 2000 and 2002.

However, according to Webb’s statement, “the copies on the judiciary website were edited to anonymise the names of the parties” some ten years after they were originally published. The privacy watchdog claimed that Webb was not using personal data for its original purpose, thus violating the Personal Data Privacy Ordinance.

The three reports have now been removed from the website as Webb – who is often dubbed as the “Long Hair” of the financial markets – awaits the decision of the appeal. 

The website's homepage. Photo: webb-site.

The website’s homepage. Photo: webb-site.

Speaking to HKFP, Webb said: “How can it be constitutional to constrain information that is already available in the public domain?” He added that the reports were available with names online to those outside Hong Kong, where they are not under the jurisdiction of the Privacy Ordinance.

Webb also cited the Basic Law, which guarantees freedom of speech and press. “The Bill of Rights [Ordinance] Article 16 says the same, but it goes a bit further in giving the right to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds,” Webb said.

Webb is deputy chairman of the Takeover and Mergers Panel. His eponymous publication presents reports aiming for transparency in Hong Kong’s governmental and financial sectors.

Correction: A previous version of this article referenced The Bill of Rights [Ordinance] Article 17 as opposed to Article 16.

Shareholder activist takes on privacy watchdog 'to defend HK media freedom'