Lawmaker Ted Hui has asked the Privacy Commissioner’s office for an explanation after it stated that the government’s use of staff to monitor lawmakers’ movements in the legislative building did not violate the privacy ordinance.
Hui snatched a phone from a civil servant last week, then looked through its contents in a men’s restroom. He said he wanted to find out whether the official was breaching privacy laws by recording the whereabouts of lawmakers to ensure a quorum in a meeting. Hiu also wanted to find out what information the officers retained.
The role of government administrative staff members working in the legislative council building is controversial as they are sometimes assigned to keep track of lawmakers’ whereabouts. They are often referred to as “government paparazzi” by lawmakers.
‘Important public interests’
The office of the commissioner issued a statement on the phone-snatching incident, saying that the civil servants do not violate the privacy ordinance in carrying out their duties.
The statement said the officers’ duties involved “important public interests” and that the government had a “legitimate purpose in collecting lawmakers’ personal information.” Hui’s letter on Thursday, which was released to the media, asked the office to address several points:
- whether it was necessary and relevant for the government to monitor lawmakers’ movements;
- whether it was fair for the government to track them without first obtaining consent;
- whether the government violated laws by keeping lawmakers’ data for over six months;
- whether the government truthfully provided the data it collected to the commissioner;
- whether the government can lawfully release the data it collected on lawmakers’ movements;
- whether the government had an open, transparent policy on recording lawmakers’ movements;
- whether the commissioner would formulate guidelines to prevent the government from monitoring lawmakers.
He said that the government could use other methods to contact lawmakers and determine attendance numbers, such as calling legislators or watching the meetings, and that it was unnecessary and irrelevant to their purpose to record their movements. He said he wrote to the government to ask what information it collected on lawmakers, but had not yet received a response.
Hui said the officer’s phone contained a large amount of information concerning lawmakers’ entries and departures from the legislature, and their locations inside the LegCo building over the past three months.
Following the incident, Hui apologised and the Democratic Party suspended him from membership and launched internal disciplinary procedures. His behaviour was condemned by the chief executive as “barbaric” and pro-Beijing legislators will likely table a motion to censure Hui – which, if passed, could result in his disqualification as a lawmaker.
The incident was reported to the police. They went to the legislative council building again on Wednesday to collect evidence.