The High Court in Hong Kong. Photo: Wikimedia Commons
The High Court in Hong Kong. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

A Hong Kong court has granted an interim injunction to prevent election officials from releasing personal details on the Register of Voters, after arguing that the safety of officers and their families would be put in jeopardy.

But election candidates for the District Council election on November 24 will still be able to access voter information.

The Junior Police Officers’ Association, the largest police group with more than 25,000 members, filed a judicial review and an application for an interim injunction to hide personal information on the register to prevent police officers from being identified and spied on.

Acting chief judge of the High Court Jeremy Poon Shiu-chor and vice-president of the Court of Appeal Johnson Lam Man-hon approved an interim injunction on Tuesday.

The association told the Court of Appeal that amid the ongoing anti-government protests, the problem of “doxxing,” or identifying, police officers and their families with their personal information leaked online in recent months led to bullying and safety fears.

The association filed the injunction application last week in a lower court, but the Court of Appeal found in its favor, saying a just and fair balance needs to be struck to address immediate privacy concerns while ensuring the integrity of the district council elections.

Under current election regulations, the chief electoral officer compiles all eligible voters’ full names and residential addresses for major elections.

The register would also be passed to a candidate for a specific constituency for campaigning purposes.

The public can request to inspect the register, too. In the past, there were a number of news stories on electoral fraud when media inspected the register.

Any redistribution of voter information is restrained by certain privacy laws.

In a written judgment, the judges said “it is not a fanciful risk” that the more information on police officers that is exposed to the public, the greater the risk that the information would be misused.

“For the applicant’s evidence shows that the doxxing attempts so far had on numerous occasions failed to identify the subject police officers’ exact residential addresses. The availability of the Final Register will conveniently and easily, using the applicant’s words, fill the gap,” the judgment said.

The justices said a person may readily link up voters living in the same house and target police officers’ families.

“If one of them is identified as a police officer, those registered under the same address could easily fall prey to malicious doxxing and resultant unlawful harassment and threats,” the justices wrote.

The judges said “doxxing should not and cannot be tolerated in Hong Kong,” but in the current turmoil, there are people in Hong Kong too readily resorting to these “hideous practices as weapons to cause harm to individuals and target groups.”

They added, “if doxxing practices are not curtailed, the fire of distrust, fear and hatred ignited by them will soon consume the public confidence in the law and order of the community, leading to disintegration of our society.”

Despite the Personal Data (Privacy) Ordinance restricting the use of information obtained from the Register of Voters, the judges said doxxers “do not respect or abide by the law,” nor will they be deterred by the penalties upon violation of the rules.

“In any event, post-doxxing remedy even in the form of penal sanction, when damage and sometimes irreparable harm has already been caused to the victims, is less preferable and effective than interim injunctive relief, a preventive measure to avoid damage and harm from being occasioned to them in the first place.”

They also said that they don’t think it could be seriously suggested that electoral authorities rely solely or heavily on the public to detect any malpractice over the election

Chris Yeung Kin-hing, chairman of the Hong Kong Journalists Association, expressed regret over the granting of the interim injunction, the Sing Pao reported. He said the injunction would curb the media from monitoring any irregularities over the election to ensure a fair and clean vote.

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