I. The meaning of “personal data”

Personal data means any data “relating directly or indirectly to a living individual, from which it is possible and practical to ascertain the identity of the individual from the said data, in a form in which access to or processing of the data is practicable” (e.g. a document or a video tape).  The legal definition of personal data can be found in section 2 of the Personal Data (Privacy) Ordinance ( Cap. 486 )(“the Ordinance”).

Obvious examples of personal data are an individual’s name and fingerprints, through which he or she can be identified. Alternatively, it may also be practicable to ascertain an individual through a combination of data such as telephone number, address, sex and age of an individual.

The Ordinance came into force on 20 December 1996. It applies to any person who collects, holds, processes and uses personal data within the private and public sectors as well as government departments. Generally speaking, the Ordinance governs the ways of collecting and using personal data, and prevents any abuse of data that is considered as intruding on an individual’s privacy.

Under current statutory and common law in the Hong Kong SAR, only personal data is protected under the Ordinance. Article 14 of the Hong Kong Bill of Rights stipulates that “no one shall be subjected to arbitrary or unlawful interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to unlawful attacks on his honour and reputation.” However, the Ordinance does not cover privacy matters other than personal data.