Hong Kong police on Friday raided the office of poll organisers involved in the opposition’s primary election a day before the event, aiming to remove computers over a recently alleged data leak from a project seven years ago.
A spokesman from the force said officers from the Cyber Security and Technology Crime Bureau searched an office in Wong Chuk Hang on Friday afternoon after receiving reports about a suspected data leak concerning city residents, including police, that may be linked to criminal hacking. No arrests were made.
Chung Kim-wah, deputy chief executive officer of the Hong Kong Public Opinion Research Institute (PORI), told the Post at 8.30pm that he learned from his colleagues about the police raid.
“Police and my colleagues are still negotiating as to how many computers will be taken away,” Chung said. “They were told it was because of a data leak from a survey commissioned by the force back in 2013.”
As of 10.15pm, police were still at the office.
Chung said he would not speculate on the timing of the police operation, but added: “What a coincidence that police took action tonight.”
Au Nok-hin, a co-organiser of the primary, said the police move was to “suppress” the weekend voting and cast a “deterrent effect” on organisers and supporters.
Chung added that the search would not affect PORI’s work for the primary, because the relevant computers were not located at the site in question.
The primary by the opposition camp is to narrow down candidates for the September Legislative Council elections. This weekend, about 250 polling stations will be set up across the city for people to vote with their identity cards and mobile phones.
Chung said the firm’s own IT consultants had found no signs of hacking, and that the data still in the system related to the concerned survey contained nothing that could identify interviewees, as information that could have helped in that regard had been deleted.
“The only thing we can’t rule out is that the [leaked] data might have been taken by someone through some channels before [it was deleted] … we don’t know if [the leaked data seen online] is authentic or not,” Chung said.
He questioned why police would need to take all of their computers based on nothing more than the complaints.
“If there were complaints about privacy-offending data found in the Chief Executive’s Office, police would not seize all computers there,” he said.
Constitutional affairs minister Erick Tsang Kwok-wai warned on Thursday the primary could breach the new national security law as well as election laws, but organisations and candidates have vowed to proceed.
Tsang noted all the primary candidates had pledged to vote down the government’s budget and paralyse the city’s administration should the opposition win its first-ever majority in the legislature.
A police source said: “We applied for a court warrant which was granted today, and therefore we took action and went to the office to investigate. It has nothing to do with the so-called election.”
The source slammed opponents for taking the opportunity to attack any police actions.
The insider also cited media reports last week that said online users had hacked the computer servers of PORI and accessed private information of 10,000 police officers that originated from a project by the organisation’s founder Robert Chung Ting-yiu in 2013 for the force. PORI had not been created at the time and was set up in 2019.
But Chung said the personal data from that year had already been deleted within six months of the project’s completion.
When everything seems to be going against you, remember that the airplane takes off against the wind, not with it.