Date
25 June 2017
Constitutional Affairs Secretary Raymond Tam (second from right) claimed that he was just as amazed as everyone else in Hong Kong at the disappearance of two computers containing sensitive voter data. Photo: HKEJ
Constitutional Affairs Secretary Raymond Tam (second from right) claimed that he was just as amazed as everyone else in Hong Kong at the disappearance of two computers containing sensitive voter data. Photo: HKEJ

The curious case of missing election computers

The chief executive election would probably have ended quietly and rumors about Beijing’s manipulation put to rest had it not been for the mysterious disappearance of two laptop computers that contained personal data on the 3.8 million registered voters in Hong Kong.

As news came that computers belonging to the Registration and Electoral Office (REO) went missing from a backup polling station at AsiaWorld-Expo, it reignited suspicions and fueled conspiracy theories among the public about Beijing’s alleged interference in the election.

As a matter of fact the saga contains a lot of elements of suspense and mystery that could make for a good thriller or detective drama. Many people believe the disappearance of the two computers on the day of the CE election was anything but coincidental.

First, while it truly boggles the mind as to how the two pieces of equipment that contain highly classified information were left unattended at the venue, it is even more startling when we ponder upon this question: why were the laptops with that data kept at the polling station in the first place?

What was the need to have them on hand that day? 

After all, only 1200 people were eligible to vote in the election, so why would the REO staff need to keep the personal data of all 3.8 million voters in the city handy on that day?

According to the explanation given by the Chief Returning Officer at a Legco hearing, REO staff brought the two computers with them on March 26 just in case they might need to verify the identity of any Election Committee member who fails to provide necessary papers.

Now, one doesn’t have to be an election expert to dismiss such explanation. After all, to verify the identity of any CE election voter, all the REO staff needed was the personal data of just the 1200 Election Committee members, not all of Hong Kong’s registered voters.

Even more astonishing is the fact that the Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs, Raymond Tam, simply played dumb after the saga had come to light, claiming that he was just as amazed as everybody else in the city at the disappearance of the two laptop computers.

While Tam’s comments were surprising, it was the Chief Returning Officer himself who took the cake on the matter.

When asked by lawmakers what remedial actions the REO is going to take over the loss of the two computers and possible theft of data, the official came up with an ingenious idea: why doesn’t the government spend HK$5 million to send apology letters to each and every voter whose personal data may have been compromised?

Now, who is going to bear the cost? Taxpayers of course!

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on April 6

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

– Contact us at [email protected]

RC

A columnist at the Hong Kong Economic Journal

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