In a crowded city such as Hong Kong, where the majority of residents live in apartment blocks that are built in close proximity to each other, home privacy can be an issue. People can see through your windows, the security guards know all about your visitors. Many aspects of your life and living circumstances are laid bare for others to see.
Hong Kong does not have a comprehensive privacy protection ordinance, but individuals who feel their personal privacy is being compromised do have legal recourse either through the courts or, in certain matters, by complaining to the Office of the Privacy Commissioner for Personal Data. In this regard, the Personal Data (Privacy) Ordinance protects the privacy interests of individuals by governing the collection and retention of data from which it is possible to ascertain a person’s identity.
For example, one area of concern for property owners and occupiers is the use of closed-circuit television (CCTV) in public areas of housing estates such as clubhouses, play areas and gardens. If the CCTV is used only for monitoring, it does not constitute any collection of personal information but, if the system includes video recording, it must comply with data protection regulations.
On this point, the method of collection needs to be legal and fair, with the purpose being consistent with its use; that is, data cannot be collected for one purpose while it is used for another. Besides, it is necessary to properly protect the relevant information from abuse.
Another common cause for complaint is when visitors to housing estates are required to register with security guards. Apart from being asked their name, they are sometimes compelled to give their mobile phone number and even ID card number. Does this violate the Personal Data (Privacy) Ordinance?
In 2016, the Office of the Privacy Commissioner for Personal Data amended its “Code of Practice on ID Card Numbers and Other Identity Codes”, thus allowing housing estate management companies to record the ID card numbers of visitors. However, the code also stipulates that if the same effect can be achieved in other ways that do not infringe upon the privacy of individuals, then these other methods should be used instead. Thus, it would appear that records can be made but, if the identity of visitors can be verified, for example, by those they are visiting, then there is no need to record ID card numbers.[…] Amid all of this, it should be pointed out that doing something in the confines of your own home does not give you automatic protection and, in certain circumstances, you may even be breaking the law. […] As I have often stressed in this column, if in doubt over any aspect of property ownership, management, leasing or living circumstances – including questions of privacy – it is best to consult an experienced lawyer.