It has been reported that incidents of cyber-bullying happen in Hong Kong from time to time. For instance, the posting of comments recently by a bride-to-be on the amount of money gift for her wedding banquet on a social networking web site has immediately drawn netizens attacking her with insulting comments and exposing her personal data and privacy (including her photographs, date and venue of the wedding banquet, place of work and job title, home address, medical history and family members’ photographs, etc.), and some netizens even harassed her with telephone calls. As a result, that lady felt distressed. Also, some netizens have set up a discussion forum on the Internet dedicated to hurling personal insults at a university student who was a top achiever in the Hong Kong Certificate of Education Examination, and they posted more than a thousand insulting comments on that student’s blog. In addition, a nurse uploaded the information of a patient to a social networking web site for ridicule by her net friends. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:
(a) of the number of complaints about cyber-bullying received by the Office of the Privacy Commissioner for Personal Data in the past five years, the number of such complaints which had been followed up (with a breakdown by result of the follow-up actions), and the number of those complaints which had not been followed up;
(b) of the number of cases in the past five years in which the authorities had carried out criminal investigations into whether those people involved in cyber-bullying activities had breached any law, with a breakdown by the type of offence; the number of cases in which the authorities had instituted prosecutions and the penalties imposed by the court on those convicted; as well as the number of cases in which prosecution was not instituted;
(c) for those cyber-bullying activities not involving criminal offences, whether the authorities have put in place any measures to help protect the victims from such nuisance; if they have, of the details; if not, the reasons for that; and
(d) given that a number of state governments in the United States (US) have already enacted anti-cyber-bullying legislation and made cyber-bullying an offence, whether the Government will make reference to such practice in US and enact anti-cyber-bullying legislation; and whether it will promote school teachers, social workers and parents playing a more important role in resolving cyber-bullying problems; if it will, of the details; if not, the reasons for that?
Reply by the Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development, Mr Gregory So:
Regarding the four-part question, the Administration’s reply is as follows:
(a) At present there is no statute law in Hong Kong defining or governing “cyber-bullying”. In the past five years, the Office of the Privacy Commissioner for Personal Data received four cases in which the complainees were alleged to have caused harassment to others using insulting phraseology, words or pictures on the Internet, in breach of the Personal Data (Privacy) Ordinance. Of these cases, three were not pursuable because the complainant failed to identify the complainee; or there was no evidence to support the allegation; or there was no prima facie evidence to show that there was contravention of the Personal Data (Privacy) Ordinance. The remaining case is being dealt with.
(b) The Police have not kept any related statistics of “cyber bullying” acts. Nevertheless, depending on the circumstances of individual case, the publication of inappropriate statements on the Internet may involve different offences, such as criminal intimidation or blackmail.
(c) The Office of the Government Chief Information Officer (OGCIO) always attaches great importance to information security and online safety. Through different publicity channels, OGCIO promotes security awareness among the public, educates them on the security best practices of using online communications tools and participating in social networking activities, guides them on how to establish the right attitude of using the Internet and how to protect themselves when using the Internet. Protection measures include not responding to online provocation and not confronting stalkers. OGCIO has provided the above information on the information security portal (www.infosec.gov.hk) for reference by organisations and citizens.
The Administration will continue to promote online security awareness among the public, and will encourage them on the careful handling of inappropriate online content and harmful information when using new communications media, with a view to protecting themselves and reducing the occurrence and spread of cyber-bullying incidents.
(d) All bullying activities (cyber or not) are governed by relevant legislation if they involve criminal offences. As for those bullying activities (cyber or not) that do not involve criminal offences, we believe it is more appropriate to promote security awareness among the public and educate them on how to protect themselves when using the Internet.
The Education Bureau (EDB) adopts a zero tolerance policy on school bullying, including cyber-bullying. EDB has issued a circular to all schools asking them to take the matter seriously and implement positive measures to ensure the safety of students at school and create a harmonious school environment. Relevant resource package materials, which provide guidelines and advice for schools, have been uploaded on EDB webpage. EDB regularly organises seminars and workshops to strengthen teachers’ capability of preventing and handling student bullying problems.
Moreover, the Social Welfare Department has commissioned three non-governmental organisations to each launch a three-year pilot cyber youth outreaching project (pilot project) with funding support from the Lotteries Fund with effect from August 2011. The three pilot projects adopt the strategy of multi-level intervention and use various cyber means to proactively reach out to young people, in particular at-risk or hidden youths, including those who engage in or might engage in at-risk behaviour like cyber-bullying and provide counselling services to them. Those who are assessed to be in need of follow-up services will be connected to the existing mainstream social services for better service synergy. These pilot projects also provide education to teachers, students, social workers, parents and the community through talks, seminars, etc. to enhance their sense of self-protection and their respect for others in the cyber world.