Hong Kong Human Rights Monitor

Request for an Inspection of Xinhua

Dear Mr Lau,

SPECIAL INSPECTION OF XINHUA

When you spoke to Human Rights Monitor earlier this year a Government decision was awaited about whether the New China News Agency (Xinhua) would be prosecuted for its breach of the 40 day requirement for responding to Emily Lau's data subject request.

As you know there has been very widespread public concern in Hong Kong about the decision of the Hong Kong Government not to prosecute in this case.

Human Rights Monitor fully shares this concern. Xinhua is in our view exactly the sort of organisation whose use of data gives rise to public concern, which the Personal Data (Privacy) Ordinance was passed to allay. The operating methods of Xinhua are no secret. Former employees of Xinhua in Hong Kong have published their memoirs, and it is a matter of record that Xinhua has for years gathered information about a wide range of Hong Kong people, and organisations. Our director was told by a representative of Xinhua in 1996 that it "knew about every organisation in Hong Kong". The fear is that this information is being gathered without the consent of the data subjects, in breach of the data protection principles, and being retained for sinister uses at some future date.

We consider that Xinhua's statement that it holds no data about Emily Lau is incredible. Before the transfer of sovereignty Xinhua was China's de facto embassy in Hong Kong, although it did not have diplomatic status. All embassies as a normal part of their activities collect data on leading political personalities in the place where they are located. It is inconceivable that Xinhua did not do this about Emily Lau.

Because of these concerns, and the need to restore public confidence in the effective working of the data protection laws, Human Rights Monitor by this letter formally requests you to use your powers under Section 36 of the Personal Data (Privacy) Ordinance, to inspect Xinhua's arrangements for collection and storage of personal data.

If it transpires after such an inspection that Xinhua's compliance with the data protection principles is exemplary much good will have been done in setting public disquiet to rest, at the cost of relatively minor inconvenience. If Xinhua's compliance is deficient then your office can help them to put matters right, and if necessary ensure compliance by way of an enforcement notice.

We look forward to your early reply.

Yours sincerely

Paul Harris


1998 (c) Hong Kong Human Rights Monitor