The Office of the Privacy Commissioner for Personal Data (PCPD) said the Education University of Hong Kong (EdUHK) violated privacy rules over the leak of screenshots relating to a poster on the death of Undersecretary for Education Christine Choi Yuk-lin’s son.
The poster “congratulated” Choi on her son’s death by suicide and was put up on the student union’s democracy wall.
PCPD said circulating screenshots to look for suspects in the case was exempt under the Personal Data (Privacy) Ordinance, but sending the screenshots to EdUHK staff for identification and investigation broke privacy regulations, the Hong Kong Economic Journal reports.
The watchdog demanded remedial measures to prevent a recurrence of the leak.
Professor Stephen Cheung Yan-leung, the school principal, said two people suspected of putting up the poster were caught in the act by security cameras.
Two screenshots of the suspects were leaked by some media.
PCPD said the screenshots originated from the school’s security center, which sent them to a WhatsApp group consisting of senior management of the university.
The screenshots were also forwarded to 13 other staff members and one student.
EdUHK should have reminded the group that the screenshots were confidential information and that they should not be forwarded to others but must be deleted immediately after use, PCPD said.
The risk of leaking the screenshots was ignored when these were sent to staff members outside the WhatsApp group, the wtachdog said.
It said the fact that the school had not successfully confirmed the identity of the suspects suggested it had not been vigilant enough.
PCPD concluded the university contravened the privacy ordinance by failing to stop further distribution of the screenshots.
Meanwhile, the Privacy Commissioner for Personal Data Stephen Wong Kai-yi said everyone’s privacy is protected by the law as a fundamental human right but it is not an absolute right.
He said a person breaching the law or certain established regulations cannot take privacy as a “refuge” or “sanctuary” for his wrongdoing.
In response to the findings, the university said it will establish related guidelines.
EdUHK students’ union president Lai Hiu-ching criticized school officials for failing to protect student rights and demanded an apology.
She also accused PCPD of overstepping its authority, saying it should not decide whether the two people concerned broke the law and should limit itself to conducting investigations and making recommendations.
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