International business body warns against plan to limit access to Hong Kong’s Companies Register

2021.05.08
International business body warns against plan to limit access to Hong Kong s Companies Register

A plan to limit public access to Hong Kong’s Companies Register should be shelved, said the city’s International Chamber of Commerce (ICC-HK) in a stark rebuke to the proposed change, which critics say would greatly reduce the transparency of local business operations.

Officials have claimed that the legal amendments, poised to be proposed in the Legislative Council, are necessary to rein in the practice of doxxing – the public release of personal information to cause nuisance – which officials claim has become rampant in recent years.

But limiting access to the Companies Register would hamper the work of lawyers, journalists and other professionals conducting due diligence on companies and their directors, the ICC-HK said. The “introduction of the proposals will erode Hong Kong’s favourable business environment detrimental to sustaining the economy,” the Chamber said in its statement to Legco, where the proposed legal amendments are expected to be discussed later this month.

“The present push by the Administration to restrict public access to the Companies Register is premature and untimely… Therefore the present proposals should be rescinded,” the statement says.

There were 1,036 doxxing complaints last year, some of them involving key pro-Beijing politicians. But among them, only 134 cases were related to personal data such as addresses and identity card numbers, two particulars that can be found in the Companies Register. That figure was far lower than the 750 cases recorded in 2019 during the height of anti-government protests, showing that the case for change is “unproven,” the ICC-HK said.

Similar proposals to limit access to company information were discussed in 2013, but the authorities subsequently said any changes would require “more time for the community to build consensus” on ways to “strike a reasonable balance between satisfying the need to access information and the protection of privacy.”

Such a consensus has not been built, the Chamber said. “There is no explanation why there has been such a change of heart, and little weight is now placed on the legitimate need to access information,” the statement read.

Once tabled, the bills could easily be passed because Legco is dominated by pro-government lawmakers following the resignations and arrests of pro-democracy lawmakers since late last year. The government has been accused of bulldozing through unpopular bills by taking advantage of its dominance in the lawmaking chamber to favor Beijing’s agenda.

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