25 October 2016
The art show features webcam images of Hong Kong people at home, in restaurants and offices. Photos:, nyethompson
The art show features webcam images of Hong Kong people at home, in restaurants and offices. Photos:, nyethompson

UK artist asked to remove webcam images of HK people from show

The Privacy Commissioner for Personal Data Stephen Wong Kai-yi has asked British artist Nye Thompson to remove images of Hongkongers’ domestic life taken from unsecured webcams, which are part of her ongoing art exhibition in London.

In a statement, Wong said individuals and organizations must abide by the city’s Personal Data (Privacy) Ordinance and other related regulations if they collect or use such screenshots, the Hong Kong Economic Journal reports.

While Hong Kong law is not legally binding in London, Wong said his office has relayed its concerns to its British counterpart through the Global Privacy Enforcement Network.

The Information Commissioner’s Office of the United Kingdom said it is aware of the exhibition and has made inquiries.

Titled, the exhibition features images collected from January to August from non-encrypted domestic webcams worldwide through the use of web technologies. The show runs from Aug. 5 to 20.

One section of the exhibition shows images of Hong Kong people doing ordinary activities at home, in restaurants or in offices.

The subjects had no knowledge that their pictures, taken from webcams that had been set up for security purposes, were being captured and, as it turned out, collected for an art show.

Thompson said through the London Metropolitan University, which is hosting the exhibition, that she had been told by legal experts that everything in the show was in accordance with the British law, which allows the public showing of such pictures as long as the people are not identifiable, Ming Pao Daily reported.

She said the purpose of her exhibition is precisely to show the terrifying extent that technology, particularly the internet, has invaded the privacy of individuals.

Barrister Choi Ki said the exhibition may have violated Hong Kong’s regulations about the collection of personal data, but he admitted it would be difficult for those involved to seek compensation as any lawsuit can only be handled by courts in the UK.

Francis Fong, honorary chairman of the Hong Kong Information Technology Federation, told Apple Daily that live feed or online broadcast of people’s domestic lives through webcams has been going on for quite some time.

The best way for a webcam owner to protect privacy and guard against unwelcome intrusions is to change the equipment’s default password right after installation, Fong said.

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