Update: Activist David Webb loses appeal against order to cut link to ‘private’ court rulings

Nov 4, 2015

by Doreen Weisenhaus with contributions by Rick Glofcheski and Yan Mei Ning (Expanded Second Edition, Hong Kong University Press 2014)

November 3, 2015 (Hong Kong Free Press) — Hong Kong’s Administrative Appeals Board has ruled that hyperlinks to court judgments must be removed from an activist’s website, because they disclosed the identity of a person whose name was redacted in the judgments. Activist David Webb complained that the decision established a “right to be forgotten” without any proper legislation, which will make public data private.

One female member of several statutory panels was involved in divorce proceedings between 2000 and 2002. She wrote to the Chief Judge of the High Court in 2010 requesting removal of three judgments from the Legal Reference System of the Judiciary’s website. The judgments were then edited so that the names of the parties and their children would be redacted.

However, if a user entered the person’s name using the “Who’s Who” function of Webb-site.com, the website of activist and share market analyst David Webb, three hyperlinks would be showed linking to the three anonymised judgments, thus revealing her identity.

The person lodged a complaint with the Office of the Privacy Commissioner for Personal Data (PCPD) against Webb in 2013. The complaint was accepted by the PCPD, who decided that Webb had contravened Data Protection Principle 3 of the Personal Data (Privacy) Ordinance (DPP 3).

The DPP 3 states that personal data shall not, without the prescribed consent of the data subject, be used for any purpose other than the purpose for which the data was originally collected.

Webb subsequently lodged an appeal against PCPD’s decision to the Administrative Appeals Board (AAB) – an independent statutory body which hears and determines appeals against administrative decision – and it was dismissed by the AAB on October 27.

The AAB took the view that the balance between freedom of expression and personal data privacy protection struck by the PCPD was reasonable. It also rejected Webb’s argument that the common law principle of open justice would exempt him from any breach of DPP 3.

Full story on HKFP here.

AAB decision here: Webb v Privacy Commissioner No 54/2014 (Oct. 27, 2015)

Privacy Commissioner’s statement here.

David Webb’s statement here.