The Hong Kong government announced on 1 June that the Telecommunications (Registration of SIM Cards) Regulation (the Regulation) should be made under subsidiary legislation of the Telecommunications Ordinance to introduce the Real-name Registration Programme for subscriber identity module cards (SIM Cards Registration Programme). The Regulation will be subject to the negative vetting procedure, in the Legislative Council (LegCo). According to the proposed legislative timetable for the Regulation by the government, the Regulation will be published in the Gazette on 4 June, tabled at the LegCo on 9 June and enacted on 1 September. Amnesty International Hong Kong (AIHK) believes the SIM Cards Registration Programme posts considerable risks to the rights to privacy, freedom of expression and anonymity overall. Therefore, AIHK considers that the legislative timetable proposed by the government on this controversial Regulation, does not provide sufficient time for the LegCo and general public to conduct meaningful vetting and discussions on the potentially far-reaching human rights impact arising from the SIM Cards Registration Programme, and fail to dispel public concerns.
During the public consultation period, AIHK handed in a submission to the Government on 19 March, setting out the potential human rights concerns of the SIM Cards Registration Programme and proposed a series of legislative recommendations. In its submission, AIHK has pointed out that the SIM Cards Registration Programme is inconsistent with the principles of legality, necessity and proportionality as specified in United Nations human rights reports. At the same time, without adequate protection of the right to anonymity, mandatory SIM card registration provides the government with the capacity to monitor individuals and journalists well beyond any legitimate government interest, hindering not just the rights to freedom of expression but also rights of peaceful assembly and association.
Moreover, according to the consultation paper, law enforcement authorities (LEAs) are allowed to request licensees to urgently provide the registration information of a SIM card user without a warrant issued by the magistrate, under the umbrella of a vague definition of “serious offences” without reasonable specifications. However, at a recent press conference, the government failed to address public concerns on the excessive discretion given to LEAs and to explicitly specify “serious offences” nor made any proposal for the establishment of any independent safeguards to review the authorities of LEAs; instead, it only proposed to relax the cap on registerable pre-paid SIM cards for individuals and enterprises and extend the transitional periods of the new legislation.
AIHK expresses disappointment at the Hong Kong government’s failure to address public concerns regarding the potential human rights risks in the proposed SIM Cards Registration Programme, and therefore urges the government to prioritize the protection of human rights and not to hurry the Regulation through the legislative process, until the excessive discretion for LEAs is ameliorated, and sufficient human rights safeguards in line with international human rights laws and standards are in place. Furthermore, it is also the responsibility of the LegCo to comprehensively review and amend the relevant legislation in response to public concerns and exercise its legal power to extend the scrutiny period so that the public will have sufficient time and opportunities to deliberate and consider the far-reaching human rights impact arising from the SIM Cards Registration Programme.
Thus, Amnesty International Hong Kong would like to call on the Hong Kong government and Legislative Council to:
- Ensure that the implementation of the SIM Cards Registration Programme complies with international human rights laws and standards, while the rights to privacy, to anonymity and to freedom of expression should be put at the utmost priority; and ensure compliance with the principles of legality, necessity and proportionality, and prevent arbitrary or unlawful limitations of the above-mentioned human rights;
- Amend the current Personal Data (Privacy) Ordinance to ensure that the right to privacy and other rights are more adequately protected by law; and establish an independent oversight mechanism to prevent the inadvertent disclosure and illegal transfer or seizure of personal information;
- Ensure that no administrative agency, including law enforcement, national security and intelligence agencies, is given excessive discretion to request for the registration information of a SIM card user without a warrant issued by court, and clearly define any scope and methods that allow them to obtain personal information so as to prevent law enforcement officials from abusing their power to arbitrarily seize personal data; and
- Should not hurry through the legislative process of the SIM Cards Registration Programme until the above measures are in place.
For the full text of AIHK’s statement about Legislation on SIM Cards Registration Programme, please download via: