The HKID index: service suspended
A special message from our Founder
15th February 2013
Webb-site has this evening received an e-mail letter from Hong Kong's
Privacy Commissioner for
Personal Data (PCPD), stating that it has read newspaper
reports about the Webb-site HKID Index and is "duty bound to examine any possible
contravention of the Personal Data (Privacy) Ordinance" (PDPO).
The PCPD has also been briefing members of the media about its enquiries and
Our first, internal reaction was "are you serious? For information that anyone
could legally have found online?".
Webb-site always acts lawfully. All of the information in our database comes
from public sources and has therefore been previously disclosed.
Webb-site Who's Who (WWW) covers all
HK-listed companies and their directors since 1990 (painstakingly extracted from
annual reports), all members of the
Government's statutory and advisory bodies, the Executive Council, the
Legislative Council, the District Councils and the Election Committee, amongst
others, including relationships between them and their families where publicly known. There are now
over 100,000 people in WWW, plus basic information (not from behind the pay-wall)
on every company registered in Hong Kong since records began in 1865, and much
All of this aims to increase transparency and accountability, and to reduce
corruption, corporate fraud, money-laundering, identity fraud and other
activities which are facilitated by a lack of transparency, to make
conflicts of interests easier to find, and people's interests in general easier
Wherever possible, the WWW database avoids mistaken identity. The use of a
unique identifier, such as a government-issued ID number or passport number,
substantially reduces mistaken identity, so we include those in the database
when they are already in the public domain. This will help reduce confusion with
other individuals who share the same name and are in WWW now or in the future.
Such a number is merely an identifier and does not convey information
about a person.
It would enormously help transparency in the corporate and government world
if companies, the Government and other organisations would publish the unique,
lifelong Hong Kong Identity number assigned to an individual when appointing
them to statutory boards and committees or granting them a license as an estate
agent, accountant, SFC-licensee, HKMA-licensee and so on. Then we could all
be sure who they are talking about, rather than wondering
which "Chan Chi Keung" or "Yang Bin" has been appointed.
ID numbers should not be regarded as secrets
- they are just more accurate identifiers than names. They tell you virtually
nothing about a person - they are identifiers, not personal data.
We do not collect data from individuals, and have therefore never needed to
seek their consent. WWW could have been produced from any country in the world
using the internet. It goes against common sense to suggest, as PCPD does, that anyone who
records publicly available information is breaching the PDPO, or that they
should not be able to record that information in their own publication.
mean that financial web sites such as Bloomberg or Reuters, with lists of
directors, including personal data such as their biographies, ages and relationships to each other, or
including records of their share dealings and earnings as directors, would be
breaching the PDPO if they did not have the consent of the director. All of that
is personal information, but it is also public information. It would
also mean that online movie databases with Hong Kong actors' dates of birth and known
relationships would be breaching the PDPO. It would also mean that chunks of
Wikipedia, with birth dates of Hong Kong public figures and their
family trees, would be breaching the PDPO. And finally, it would mean that
Google itself is breaching the PDPO by holding copies of the data and indexing
them so that we can all find it.
We regard the investigation by the PCPD as wholly misconceived and a threat
to the freedom of speech and publication guaranteed by
Article 27 of the Basic Law.
For the first time in many years, probably since our early coverage of
the Cyberport, we feel threatened in our
coverage of HK affairs.
Despite this, Webb-site is not-for-profit and although I heavily subsidize
its running costs and commit a great deal of my time to promote transparency, accountability,
and good governance in Hong Kong, I am not willing to commit vast amounts
of money to a protracted legal court challenge of these principles against the
resources of the Government.
Accordingly, with immediate effect, the Webb-site HKID index is indefinitely suspended. We will respond to the PCPD's questions in due course, and seek to convince
them that transparency of public data, and the freedom to collate it, is both
legal and in the
public interest. If the index never returns, you will know why.
If you want
to know the exact identity of company directors, liquidators, bail-jumpers and others who were
included in the index, you can hit
this link to search Google for HKIDs in the US SEC documents, or
this link to search Google for the Gazette notices for HKIDs, or
this link to search Google for the ICAC web site. There are
other sources of course. For an
individual, just Google various arrangements of their full names (inside double
quotes) and the word "HKID" (to avoid the Google mistyping assumption of "kid"),
and you will find most of them.
A Supreme Court Justice once said that "Sunlight is the best disinfectant".
This has been a dark day for transparency in Hong Kong.
David M. Webb