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Thursday, Jul 09, 2020

Authorities in Hong Kong seized nearly 4,000 cell phones from protesters, and activists are concerned that police are reading their messages and installing spyware

Authorities in Hong Kong seized nearly 4,000 cell phones from protesters, and activists are concerned that police are reading their messages and installing spyware

Lawmakers and activists have argued that police conduct many of these mobile phone examinations without consent.
Hong Kong police has seized more than 3,700 mobile phones used by protesters in the last several months of ongoing protests, the city's security chief said during a meeting.

Secretary for Security John Lee disclosed the information during a Legislative Council meeting on Wednesday. Lawmaker Charles Mok questioned the security chief about possible abuse of power among police and discussed complaints of police inspection of mobile phones without consent.

"Under Hong Kong law, law enforcement agencies have the responsibility to prevent and detect crime to protect citizens' lives and property. Over the course of carrying out their responsibilities, law enforcement agencies may exercise their search and seizure, confirmed by relevant legislation, and seize and examine various objects of suspected offenders, including mobile phones and other similar devices," Lee told the council in response to Mok's questioning.

"From June to November 2019, police processed 1,429 cases that involved mobile phones as evidence," Lee said. "Among those cases, 3,721 mobile phones belonging to arrested persons or suspects were involved, and the relevant cases were all processed with search warrants issued by the court," he added.

More than 6,000 people have been arrested since protests against a proposed extradition bill erupted in June.

Lee said that generally, police only conduct "digital forensic examination" on mobile phones only after obtaining a warrant, and added that the information obtained would be used in relevant trials.

He declined to reveal which "critical technologies" are used in these types of examinations, calling them "confidential information."

"Disclosing such information may reveal to criminals details of law enforcement agencies operations, thus allowing criminals to take advantage by undermining law enforcement capabilities."

Lee cited an October 2017 ruling which said that police "may seize mobile phones found on an apprehended person or in and about the place in which they were apprehended, and may examine the content of these mobile phones without obtaining a warrant only in exigent circumstances."
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