Hong Kong Law & Crime Politics & Protest

Police criticised for lack of transparency in the use of ‘dishonest use of computer’ charge

Hong Kong lawmakers have slammed the police force for failing to disclose law enforcement information related to the charge of accessing a computer with dishonest intent.

Commonly known as the “dishonest use of a computer,” the charge has been used in relation to online speech. Last August, a pro-democracy activist was arrested for allegedly posting threats on internet forums against election officials. In 2014, police arrested at least 20 people under the charge during the pro-democracy Occupy protests, Apple Daily reported.

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File Photo: Tookapic, via Pixabay.

‘Lack of resources’

Despite concerns that the law may be abused to make political prosecutions and suppress freedom of speech, police have refused to disclose details of law enforcement actions related to the “access to computer with dishonest intent” charge under Section 161 of the Crimes Ordinance.

The force came under fire again during a legislative session on Wednesday, when the Establishment Subcommittee reviewed a proposal to add a new chief superintendent position to the Cyber Security and Technology Crime Bureau.

“People are very concerned that police may apply Section 161 arbitrarily to target anyone they wish. We want an analysis of how this law has been applied,” lawmaker Raymond Chan Chi-chuen of People Power said.

Chung Siu-yeung, assistant commissioner of police, said the force did not have enough resources to categorise prosecutions and convictions made under Section 161 by the type of crimes. He also suggested lawmakers check news reports and court cases for information.

“We need to review every case so we will need a lot of resources for that,” Chung said. “If we are to categorise them, we need to ensure it will benefit our work in terms of efficiency and crime prevention. If we put a lot of resources into purely statistical work, I don’t think it will align with our mission.

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Raymond Chan. File Photo: Stanley Leung/HKFP.

‘Irresponsible’

Civic Party lawmaker Kwok Ka-ki slammed Chung for asking lawmakers to check with the judiciary and other sources. He said: “How is such an attitude from government officials acceptable? Why don’t we just ask judicial officers to answer our questions then?”

“It is the police force that is asking us to approve funding for this new position, what we are demanding is related to the work of the police, so how can you be so irresponsible by referring us to court reports?”

IT sector lawmaker Charles Mok said that information provided to the legislature by the police included “detailed categories” of reported cases of cyber crimes.

“In 2016, there were more than 800 reported cases and you divided them into more than 20 categories,” Mok said, “so it proves that you have the capability to do that.”

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Charles Mok. File Photo: Charles Mok, via Facebook.

“But when it comes to Section 161 – which to my mind is the real ‘Internet Article 23 [security law]’ – there have only been about a hundred prosecutions, and yet you refuse to categorise them, citing lack of resources… We just want to know how many of the cases involved [online] speech.”

‘Committed’

In response, Chung said: “We understand that the legislature may have reservations about our level of transparency, but our categorisation method is quite good compared to overseas jurisdictions.”

Undersecretary for Security John Lee Ka-chiu said a reason for not being able to provide the information is that the database is shared with other departments. “We need to see if our database system will allow us to categorise cases in the manner requested,” he said.

“I don’t want to give the impression that we intentionally do not provide such information… Since lawmakers have made a request, we will study whether we can provide statistics on this area from now on. This shows our commitment to assisting the legislature.”

According to the figures provided by police to the Establishment Subcommittee, a total of 180 prosecutions were made under Section 161 of the Crimes Ordinance between 2012 and 2014, leading to 162 convictions. However, the figures were not categorised by the type of crimes.

Police criticised for lack of transparency in the use of 'dishonest use of computer' charge