Hong Kong government announces plan for real-name registration of phone cards, raising surveillance concerns

Hong Kong’s Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development Edward Yau announced at a press conference on June 1 that the Hong Kong government has developed a plan to require Hong Kong people to provide their real names and other personal information when registering their cell phone numbers. He said the plan would help combat telephone fraud as well as organized crime activities such as drug trafficking. Telecommunications operators will have six months to develop the relevant systems for registering and storing subscriber information. Registration will begin on March 1 next year.

But critics say the authorities’ move will further restrict Hong Kong people’s freedom of expression and boost surveillance. The Wall Street Journal on Wednesday quoted Xu Lowen, an assistant professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong’s School of Journalism and Communication, as saying that the government is still working on policies that show they don’t trust their own people and that the measures will further erode Hong Kong people’s privacy and trust.

According to the authorities’ “proposal,” Hong Kong residents must provide their names, ID numbers, copies of identification documents and dates of birth to telecom operators when buying new SIM cards. The police will have to obtain permission from the court when requesting access to the relevant information, except in some special cases.

The latest official figures for Hong Kong show that more than 10,250 people have been arrested since the massive political protests in the city last June. The report said the authorities’ plan has touched a sensitive nerve in Hong Kong society, and since the Beijing authorities implemented the national security law in Hong Kong in June last year, a number of social activists and opposition politicians have been accused of violating the national security law as “evidence” by the authorities using phone messages.