Hong Kong’s Security Bureau misinterpreted a 1998 judgment about an offense relating to accessing a computer with criminal or dishonest intent, according to some legal experts.
The bureau submitted a document to the Legislative Council on Monday in response to critics who accused it of suppressing freedom of speech.
The document, which is up for discussion by the chamber, explains the bureau’s interpretation of Section 161 of the Crimes Ordinance.
A person who dishonestly obtains access to a computer ought to be punished, even if the act is not preparatory to the commission of a crime, the bureau argues in the document.
Chong Yiu-kwong, a human rights lawyer, said the bureau’s interpretation of the provision is inaccurate, Apple Daily reported.
Barrister Tam Chun-kit said many recent arrests under article 161 were not related to unauthorized computer access.
And Eric Cheung, principal law lecturer in the University of Hong Kong, said the Security Bureau is trying to expand the scope of the law.
He said it could make anyone liable for comments made online but not in other media.
The controversy stemmed from a 1998 decision by Justice Patrick Chan over the unauthorized disclosure of private information about former justice secretary Elsie Leung by an employee of Queen Mary Hospital.
Any offense relating to Article 161 “requires proof of a specific criminal or dishonest intent or purpose”, Justice Chan wrote in the ruling.
“But I do not agree that it is restricted to such acts. A person who makes unauthorised access to another person’s computer need not have any intention to commit a crime or fraud.”
The ruling defined the applicable scope of Article 161 to a person who makes unauthorized access to another person’s computer, Chong said.
However, it did not extend its interpretation to any other situation.
Lawmaker Charles Peter Mok, who represents the information technology sector, said the applicable provision “has limited scope” but the Security Bureau is interpreting it with an indefinite application.
Last month, Barry Ma, chairman of radical group The Faculty of Orchid Gardening, was arrested for cursing former Ming Pao columnist Chris Wat and wishing death for her family.
Former radio host Tam Tak-chi was arrested for speculating about a homemade bomb planted near the hearse of Yang Guang, a former leader of the Hong Kong Federation of Trade Unions and a key figure in the 1967 riots, who died recently.
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