Hong Kong Law & Crime Politics & Protest

No one was guarding election computers before they disappeared, chief electoral officer admits

The government has admitted that no one was guarding the two election computers which disappeared from a backup polling station for the chief executive election last month.

The laptops vanished last Monday from a locked room at AsiaWorld-Expo near the airport on Lantau Island. The names of the 1,194 chosen electors who had the right to vote in the election were kept on one laptop. The other laptop stored detailed information belonging to all 3.78 million geographical voters including their names, addresses and identity card numbers.

Chief Electoral Officer Wong See-man attempted to explain the incident when he appeared at a Legislative Council Finance Committee session on Monday. It was held ahead of a special session of the Panel on Constitutional Affairs next Tuesday, which will focus specifically on the matter.

Chief Electoral Officer Wong See-man

Chief Electoral Officer Wong See-man at the main polling station of the chief executive election on March 26. Photo: GovHK.

There was no sign of a break-in, according to preliminary investigations.

When questioned by Democratic Party lawmaker Lam Cheuk-ting, Wong said the Registration and Electoral Office was investigating if anyone failed to follow procedures.

“After laptop testing was finished, our staff members left the venue at a certain date, and put them into a locked room,” Wong said, when Lam asked about security procedures for the machines.

Lam, in response, said: “So it means no one was watching the laptop closely.” Wong did not respond.

When pressed by Education sector lawmaker Ip Kin-yuen, Wong admitted no-one was stood guard.

Lam Cheuk-ting

Lam Cheuk-ting. Photo: Democratic Party.

Wong said the Office’s database system was designed not only for checking the eligibility of general voters, but also that of voters in custody. Those in custody could be voters in any of the five geographical areas – thus all voters’ data were required to check their voting status.

Wong said the system was brought to the backup site in case electors forgot to bring their name badges, which were mailed to them previously. The system is able to confirm their eligibility in order that a new badge may be issued.

System ‘not appropriate’ 

“We have reviewed whether the system was suitable to be used in the chief executive election. Our preliminary review showed that it was not appropriate… we will look into other possible means,” Wong said.

New People’s Party lawmaker Michael Tien Puk-sun was not satisfied with the answer: “I don’t see any logic here. Why was the data [for 3.78 million voters] required?”

Wong did not answer directly but said that – in past chief executive elections – there have been cases of non-electors entering the voting venue, thus a system was needed.

Wong also said the 3.2 million letters mailed to voters to notify them of the incident cost around HK$5 million.

letter of apology vote

Meanwhile, the Office of the Privacy Commissioner for Personal Data said on Saturday that it has received more than 900 complaints and enquiries related to the incident.

It said there was no actual evidence of data leakage and the public does not need to be overly concerned.

It added that it was an individual case of theft and that it has asked the Registration and Electoral Office to provide more information to explain the incident.

IT sector lawmaker Charles Mok has launched a campaign asking the public to file complaints to the privacy commissioner using an online platform.

Mok has also filed a complaint to the Ombudsman over the incident.

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No one was guarding election computers before they disappeared, chief electoral officer admits