LCQ5: Online acts of inciting and calling on attacks against commercial organisations
After the riots in 2019, the political opinions of those members of the public who are commonly known as "blue ribboners" and "yellow ribboners" have been sharply divided. From time to time, some netizens have, through online platforms, called on people to collectively vilify, slander, uglify and boycott those commercial organisations belonging to the rival camp (which include: the largest local mainstream television broadcaster, major fast food chains, retail outlets, China-capital private enterprises, state-owned enterprises and banks), thereby tarnishing their business reputation. The advertisers and artistes of the television broadcaster concerned have been doxxed, boycotted, bullied and even harassed. There have also been online remarks instigating depositors of China-capital banks to withdraw their deposits and place them in overseas banks, so as to impair the performance of the former. Some members of the public are concerned that the aforesaid phenomenon has seriously impeded the fair competition and normal operation of commercial organisations. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:
(1) of the legislation targeting the following online acts: wilfully vilifying, slandering, uglifying and calling for group boycotts against commercial organisations in an attempt to affect the fair competition and normal operation of commercial organisations; which government departments are responsible for enforcing the relevant legislation; whether there has been any relevant conviction since 2019;
(2) of the government departments to which commercial organisations that have been subjected to such acts may make complaints and seek assistance; how the Government will deal with such complaints and requests for assistance upon receipt of them; and
(3) whether it has studied the negative impacts, since the eruption of the riots in 2019, of the aforesaid acts on commercial organisations (especially listed companies), market competition and the operation of the stock market, and if such acts have de facto helped fuel the development of a "yellow economic circle", deepened animosity among members of the community, intensified Mainland-Hong Kong conflicts, as well as endangered national security; if so, of the details; if not, whether it can immediately conduct such a study and formulate counter-measures?
During the serious violence in 2019, there were a lot of unlawful acts advocating "Hong Kong independence" and violence, seriously endangering public and national safety. Apart from visible physical violence, saboteurs even advocated "colour economy" to differentiate economic activities by political stance. They vilified, slandered, smeared and boycotted commercial organisations of different political views. Individuals related to these organisations were doxxed, boycotted, bullied and even harassed.
Such tactic arising from political stance has undermined Hong Kong's economy and torn our society apart. Hong Kong has always maintained a free market economy, and commercial organisations attracted customers by offering quality services and brands. Never have they been differentiated by political stance or colour, or attacked for holding different political views. The Government strives to uphold our institutional strengths, including the rule of law, judicial independence as well as a regime for free trade and investment, so as to provide a business-friendly environment for promoting trade development in Hong Kong. Following the implementation of the Hong Kong National Security Law, social stability has been restored gradually. In general, businesses and foreign chambers of commerce are positive to the operating environment in Hong Kong.
Having consolidated the information from the Commerce and Economic Development Bureau, the Home Affairs Bureau, the Financial Services and the Treasury Bureau and the Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Bureau (CMAB), the reply to the Member's question is as follows:
(1) The Internet is not an unreal world that is beyond the law. As far as the existing legislation in Hong Kong is concerned, most of the crime-prevention laws in the real world are applicable to the online world. Acts inciting others to break the law or engage in cyber-bullying are regulated by the relevant legislation as long as they involve criminal offences, regardless of whether they are committed online. For example, "criminal intimidation", "act with a seditious intention or uttering of seditious words", "handling or possession of seditious publication", and "access to computer with criminal or dishonest intent" under the Crimes Ordinance, and "blackmail" under the Theft Ordinance etc. Publishing information online that might threaten public safety may also infringe the common law offence of incitement to commit public nuisance.
While the Police do not maintain breakdown of arrest figures related to the unlawful acts against commercial organisations, the Police arrested a total of six persons in relation to three cases on unlawful statements made online against a local television station in the past year or so. They were arrested for offences including "conspiracy to criminally intimidate", "incitement to commit wounding with intent", "incitement to commit assault occasioning actual bodily harm" and "incitement to commit criminal damage" etc. Among them, a man has been charged, while the other cases are under investigation.
(2) Members of the public or commercial organisations should seek the Police for assistance as soon as possible should there be any suspected unlawful act. Law enforcement agencies will hold the person(s) concerned responsible in accordance with the law along the principle that "laws are observed and strictly enforced, and offenders are brought to book".
If the act concerned involves the misuse of personal data, such as doxxing individuals related to businesses (e.g. management, employees, etc.), members of the public may seek assistance from the Office of the Privacy Commissioner for Personal Data (the Office). The Office has set up a hotline to handle enquiries and complaints on doxxing, and will write to the websites involved to request the removal of personal data concerned and refer cases to the Police and the Department of Justice for follow-up where necessary.
The CMAB has introduced the Personal Data (Privacy) (Amendment) Bill 2021 (the Bill) to the Legislative Council (LegCo) with a view to combatting doxxing acts that are intrusive to personal data privacy. Through the criminalisation of doxxing acts and conferring on the Privacy Commissioner for Personal Data (the Commissioner) power to conduct criminal investigation and institute prosecution for doxxing cases, enforcement against such cases will be strengthened. The Bill also confers on the Commissioner statutory powers to issue cessation notices to a person or an organisation capable of taking cessation actions against doxxing messages, so as to demand the cessation or restriction of disclosure of doxxing content and minimise the harm caused to the data subject concerned and his/her family members. The relevant bills committee has completed its scrutiny and the Second Reading on the Bill will later be resumed in the LegCo.
Apart from seeking assistance from the relevant government departments, victims may also consider whether to take civil actions against the acts concerned.
(3) The spate of incidents disrupting public order and endangering public safety in recent years involved countless false information that constantly discredited the Government, causing hatred among some people towards the Government or commercial organisations. Government departments will do their best to help clarify incorrect information expeditiously, and combat false information inciting hatred and violence by all feasible administrative and legal means. The Secretary for Home Affairs is now studying approaches of other countries and places in dealing with fake news and disinformation so that reference can be provided for how the next step should be taken.
In relation to the operation of the securities market, it is a criminal offence under the Securities and Futures Ordinance for a person to disclose or disseminate false or misleading information which is likely to induce the purchase or sale of a stock by another person in Hong Kong. The relevant regulators always monitor trading activities in the securities market to ensure that there is no abnormal trading and position holding or market manipulation. The Government and the regulators will continue to closely monitor the market to safeguard the proper interests of listed companies and investors, and maintain the financial stability of Hong Kong.
Over the past two years, Hong Kong has experienced unprecedented double blows, first the serious violence in 2019 and then the coronavirus epidemic. As a result, social stability has been undermined, economic development impeded and a heavy price paid in people's livelihood.
This experience has highlighted the importance of a safe and stable Hong Kong. Members of the public should be alerted that "colour economy" is merely a political movement under the guise of economic terminology for dividing the people and undermining Hong Kong's free economy. Different sectors of the community must uphold our core values and institutional strengths under "one country, two systems", so that Hong Kong will remain a safe city and progress steadily.
Thank you, President.
Ends/Wednesday, September 15, 2021
Issued at HKT 19:05
Issued at HKT 19:05