Hong Kong's government plans to allow a longer list of professionals to gain access to the personal data of corporate directors and executives, in a refinement of a plan to crack down on money laundering and financial misdemeanour.

The Financial Services and the Treasury Bureau (FSTB) would add practising accountants, lawyers, bankers to a list of "specified persons" who can get access to the personal data of corporate directors and executives, said the FSTB Secretary Christopher Hui Ching-yu.

The group of "specified persons," including securities firms, insurers, real property agents, and license holders of stored-value facilities, can apply to Hong Kong's Registrar of Companies to gain full access to the home addresses and Hong Kong identity card (HKID) numbers of corporate directors and executives listed in the Companies Registry.

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The inclusion of "these organisations to the list of 'specified persons' would help ensure the robustness of governance of Hong Kong's financial and commercial sectors," Hui said in a blog post on the FSTB's website, adding that the extension will be executed in three phases starting in May. "This would also maintain the high efficiency of [the city's] anti-money-laundering regime."

Secretary for Financial Services and the Treasury Bureau (FSTB) Christopher Hui Ching-yu, at the Central Government Offices, Tamar on 5 June 2020. Photo: Jonathan Wong alt=Secretary for Financial Services and the Treasury Bureau (FSTB) Christopher Hui Ching-yu, at the Central Government Offices, Tamar on 5 June 2020. Photo: Jonathan Wong>

The move makes the personal data of corporate executives accessible to more professionals. Members of the public not on the "specified persons" list can only obtain correspondence addresses and partial HKID numbers, according to a proposal in the city's legislature in March to address privacy concerns over doxxing and abuses of personal data.

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The refinement takes into account feedback and suggestion of the public, said Hui. When the proposal was first announced earlier this year, "specified persons" was a small group comprising only company members, liquidators or a public officer.

Anti-riot police on guard uses a camera to record a lunchtime anti-government rally in Kowloon Bay on 3 January 2020. Photo: Edmond So alt=Anti-riot police on guard uses a camera to record a lunchtime anti-government rally in Kowloon Bay on 3 January 2020. Photo: Edmond So>

This has sparked concerns, particularly among the financial industry, over the risk and quality of their due diligence work. Advocates of the wider access say their compliance inquiries will be compromised if they were barred from accessing the data of corporate directors.

In making such refinement, the government recognises the challenges faced by the financial industry and related professionals in obtaining authorisation from the relevant company directors for such personal data, Hui said.

This is especially the case when financial institutions are performing their due diligence and compliance-related work on commercial transactions, such as those related with preventing money laundering and terrorist financing, Hui wrote.

Hui added that the relevant information obtained on the directors, if abused or misused, will still be censured by the relevant regulators or professional bodies.

The proposal to restrict public access to directors' personal data was prompted by an increasing number of doxxing cases and personal data abuse, and rising privacy concerns. Doxxing, the malicious publicising of personal information, was a problem during Hong Kong's anti-government protests in 2019, with police officers and their families being the prime targets.

"The spirit [of the government's proposal] is that we need to strike a balance, in that privacy needs to be protected," Hui said in a radio programme on RTHK today. "Lawyers, accountants and banks are included, [as] they are involved in positions that involve the performance of know-your-customers, compliance, and other anti-money laundering-related [checks on companies]."

This article originally appeared in the South China Morning Post (SCMP), the most authoritative voice reporting on China and Asia for more than a century. For more SCMP stories, please explore the SCMP app or visit the SCMP's Facebook and Twitter pages. Copyright © 2021 South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.

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