HK data privacy law needs to level up in big data era

HK data privacy law needs to level up in big data era Big data helps organizations to gain business insights or even drive innovation. In a data-driven economy, the facilitation of the free flow of information and big data analytics while ensuring proper protection of individuals’ rights poses a big challenge to many companies or data users.

IT products vendor H3C has said three new business units will be formed this year: Cloud, Security and Big Data. The new units together with the existing Connectivity unit will become the four-pillar business structure of the company. The Big Data unit will focus on providing big data analytics offering to customers.

However, the launch of the Big Data unit in the Hong Kong market will be delayed, according to Davis Hui, the company’s general manager for Hong Kong and Macau.

"Firstly, there are data privacy concerns under the Personal Data (Privacy) Ordinance (PDPO). It is difficult to share personal data under the current PDPO climate," said Hui.

"Secondly, the collection of customer data usually requires three to six months. The present pool of data is not strong enough to support big data analysis. Until there is sufficient input of data, it is challenging for the public and private sectors to share data," he added.

According to Hui, H3C does not have an expected timeframe on the launch of the Big Data unit in Hong Kong. Its launch will be based on customer needs and the local market environment.

Data privacy vs economic benefits

When asked about his opinion on H3C’s decision, Hong Kong’s Privacy Commissioner for Personal Data (PCPD) Stephen Wong (pictured, right) did not comment on any individual companies’ commercial decisions but stressed the importance of a balance between privacy and economic benefits.

“We believe that economic and societal benefits and the right of individuals to privacy are equally important, and a proper balance must be struck,” said Wong.

He explained that the Personal Data (Privacy) Ordinance is not a key barrier to the open data policy as it provides exemptions for statistics and research activities.

Under section 62 of the Ordinance, personal data that is used solely to prepare statistics or carry out research is exempted from the restrictions on use, if the resulting statistics or research is not made available in a form that identifies the data subjects. However, for personal data that is obtained from the public domains, it is still subject to the protection of the Ordinance.

“The key to address the challenges towards personal data privacy protection when exploring big data potential is to balance privacy rights with other rights and interests,” he noted.

Current law needs updates to meet tech trends

Legislative councilor (IT) Charles Mok (pictured, middle) pointed out that the current privacy law is not updated to meet technology trends, and is unclear in cross-border data transfer and re-use of public domain data.

“The biggest problem is that our government never updates our laws as global needs and technology change. The last round of legal update did not happen until about 15 years of the law being in place. That may leave our law outdated or even unenforceable,” noted Mok.

Mok explained that the current privacy law may still be unclear in a number of areas, such as the uncertainty about the enactment of section 33 and re-use of public domain data. Section 33 limits the transfer of personal data outside Hong Kong. The current law also limits the re-use only to purposes within the original intent of the collection of the data.