Hong Kong Immigration Department Blacklist Exposed

By Se San, Radio Free Asia
May 18, 2008 12:00 am Last Updated: May 18, 2008 12:00 am

Several confidential government documents were revealed in Hong Kong when an Immigration Department official improperly transferred them to his personal computer. One of the documents included information about the Immigration Department's blacklist of people who are not allowed into the territory, often due to political or religious activities.

Hong Kong Immigration Department Director, Mr. Ambrose Lee, confirmed that one of his officials failed to follow procedures that protect confidential information. According to various Hong Kong media sources, at least nine documents were exposed including entry denial records of foreign visitors and personal information about some foreign and local residents who had already entered Hong Kong.

Mr. Guo, a computer expert in Hong Kong, told Radio Free Asia that he suspected the confidential documents were leaked because the immigration official stored the data in his personal computer.

Mr. Guo said that the Immigration Department uses software called FOXY to protect confidential documents, “FOXY software allows sharing of personal files such as movies and music. The confidential documents will normally be stored in separate regions so that no one else can see them. My guess is that the Immigration Department official brought the files home and stored them in the wrong place on his personal computer and thus others were able to obtain the files.”

Ms Ng, a Hong Kong media worker, said that this is not the first time the Hong Kong Government has leaked personal data.

She said, “Recently, doctors from several hospitals have lost their USB thumb drives. Some were found in the hospitals, others in the person's car. It is said that there were name lists of over 10,000 people missing, including people under surveillance. It is now being investigated.”

Ms Ng indicated that the information leakage from the Immigration Department has caused widespread attention because several overseas visitors have recently been denied entry to Hong Kong, while the Legislative Council is debating the legal basis for refusing them entry.

Ms Ng said, “Because of the Olympic Torch Relay many people have been denied entry into Hong Kong. Many people were complaining of differential treatment after a Hollywood star obtained permission to enter. I know the Legislative Council is having a hearing to discuss this matter. Recently, both the Association of Journalists and the public have asked the Hong Kong Government to disclose its criteria for denying or granting entry.”

According to Hong Kong media reports, the leaked documents included information about a Bangladeshi tourist who was refused entry and a tourist from Taiwan who was allowed in. The leaked confidential documents also included many complaints against the Immigration Department from Hong Kong residents. Hong Kong Legislative Council Member James To said that this data is not considered top-secret. If the documents were not leaked intentionally, the officer may not be charged. However, the officials said the Hong Kong Government would earnestly look into the cause and the effects of the incident.