Hong Kong to Implement Passenger Screening System, Prompting Concerns That CCP Will Obtain the Data

Hong Kong to Implement Passenger Screening System, Prompting Concerns That CCP Will Obtain the Data
The Legislative Council Complex in Hong Kong on Nov. 5, 2011. (Tksteven/GFDL)
Anne Zhang

The Hong Kong Legislative Council recently held a meeting to discuss implementation of the Advance Notification of Passenger Information system, planned to be operating in the third quarter of 2024. The system will conduct risk assessments, screen people arriving in Hong Kong, and consider national security and other factors.

The news caused social controversy. Some scholars said the action was obviously excessive and designed to obtain personal  information about people. They suspect the authorities will extend the forecast mechanism to Hong Kong outbound passengers. Scholars have also questioned whether the relevant data will be reported to the mainland law enforcement agencies in real time if the intermediaries who set up and manage the relevant systems have a mainland China background. Thus, Hong Kong data will become shared data.

On May 3,  the Hong Kong Legislative Council Security Panel met to discuss the Advance Notification of Passenger Information system stipulated in the amended Immigration Ordinance last year. The system requires airlines to provide personal data of passengers and crew on flights heading to Hong Kong before departure, and people can only board the planes to Hong Kong after their data has been reviewed by the authorities. The Hong Kong government emphasized that people with the right of abode in Hong Kong will not be issued with "denied boarding" instructions, and the system is only applicable to "inbound flights."

Sonny Au Chi-kwong, deputy secretary of the Hong Kong Security Bureau, said at the meeting that one of the purposes of the system is to prevent non-refoulement applicants (asylum seekers) from arriving in Hong Kong. In addition, the forecast system will conduct risk assessments and deter persons involved in endangering "national security," who are "unfavorable to Hong Kong," and potential non-refoulement applicants. However, Sonny Au Chi-kwong did not explain what is considered "unfavorable to Hong Kong," and emphasized that the Immigration Department would make the final decision. He said that allowing a passenger to board the plane did not mean the person would enter Hong Kong.

In addition, the Immigration (Amendment) Ordinance empowers the Secretary for Security Bureau to formulate regulations to implement the system.

According to a public document issued by the Hong Kong Legislative Council on May 3, the new forecast system requires airline operators to submit the personal information of passengers and crew to the Hong Kong Immigration Department at least 40 minutes before the flight departs, including: name, date of birth, gender, nationality, and the type, number, expiry date, and issuing country or agency of the valid travel document.

Airline operators can be fined 100,000 yuan (about $12,700) upon conviction of failing to provide complete and accurate information within a specified time or allowing people to board a plane without an "authorized boarding" order, according to the documents.

The government plans to start bidding in the first quarter of 2023, and to implement the system in 2024. The Security Bureau estimates that the promotion of the forecast system will involve a total of nearly HK$300 million (about $38.26 million) in non-recurrent expenditures in the four financial years from 2022-2023 to 2025-2026, for the purchase of software and hardware, and the establishment of communication networks. The forecast system is expected to cost 71.69 million yuan (about $9.14 million) annually after it is put into operation.

In fact, many activists, scholars, and political figures outside China have been refused entry by the Hong Kong government in the past, such as Taiwanese scholar Wu Ruiren, and former Supreme Court justice of the Philippines, and Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales. Wu Ruiren has been named by pro-CCP newspapers as violating the "Hong Kong National Security Law." Morales has charged the CCP government with crimes against humanity in the disputed South China Sea, to the International Criminal Court.

Sonny Au Chi-kwong also revealed that from 2019 to 2021, the Hong Kong authorities have stopped nearly 10,000 people from entering Hong Kong.

In an interview with The Epoch Times, Zhong Jianhua, the deputy chief executive of Hong Kong Minyan Research Institute in the United Kingdom, said that Hong Kong immigration officials have always had the power to deny entry to anyone without giving any reason at all. The Hong Kong government's current move obviously has the mandate of obtaining excessive amounts of personal information, which will inevitably affect Hong Kong's role as a shipping hub. He doubts that the Hong Kong government will extend the forecasting mechanism to Hong Kong outbound passengers in the future.

Yang Yingyu, former manager of the Assessment Development Department of the History Division of the Hong Kong Examination and Assessment Authority, who also resides in the UK, told The Epoch Times that the key point of the policy is that the Hong Kong government intends to employ an "intermediary" to set up and manage the relevant network. He questioned whether the intermediary people will collect data of overseas visitors and Hong Kong residents, and report it to mainland law enforcement agencies in real time, so that Hong Kong data will become shared data.

Wang Anran, a senior current affairs commentator in Hong Kong, believes that one of the goals of the Hong Kong government's introduction of the Advance Notification of Passenger Information system may be to target mainland senior officials or their children who travel abroad via Hong Kong. He said this system could enable the authorities to obtain the information of the officials and their children when they are about to go to Hong Kong, and then question them about why they are leaving China.