The Hong Kong Police Force (HKPF) has set up a hotline for the public to provide information on national security issues through social media platforms, promising anonymity. Experts said this was a general approach in combating crimes and they called for its normalization.
"To facilitate the provision of information and reports on national security, the National Security Department of the HKPF is officially launching the 'National Security Department Reporting Hotline' today, which allows members of the public to make non-emergency reports on national security through multiple platforms including WeChat, SMS or email," the HKPF wrote on Facebook on Thursday, inviting citizens to provide tips.
The hotline will only receive information, including photographs, audio or video recordings, related to national security issues, the HKPF stated. All information will be dealt with only by the National Security Department.
Joe Chan Cho-kwong, former chairman of the Junior Police Officers' Association, called the use of hotlines a "general approach" to fighting crimes.
"It can certainly be very useful to Hong Kong, for it can protect whistleblowers and help fight secessionism," Chan noted.
More than 800 Hongkongers have already left comments under the HKPF's announcement on Facebook, most of which supported the force's efforts to safeguard Hong Kong's stability.
"The public consent reflects the fundamental consensus of Hong Kong society, which is getting back on track in the post-national security law era," Li Xiaobing, an expert on Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan at the Nankai University in Tianjin, told the Global Times on Thursday.
Li does not find the hotline a possible threat or anything that would deepen friction in Hong Kong society, as some have claimed.
"Reports from the public only provide basic clues for the police," Li noted. "In Hong Kong, a society governed by the rule of law, to convict a person requires a complete and strict legal process."
Chan dismissed some Hong Kong citizens' worries over possible data leaks, noting that drug hotlines and traffic hotlines have been in use for a long time without infringing on personal privacy at all.
The HKPF also stressed that the police will not request personal information from the informants when using the hotline. None of the information collected will be disclosed to third parties, and it will be handled in strict accordance with the city's Personal Data (Privacy) Ordinance.
"The police must comply with the Personal Data (Privacy) Ordinance in investigations. But the use of personal data by the police is legitimate and lawful as long as it is to carry out the duties entrusted to the police by the law, or for purposes permitted by the law," Wu Yingpeng, a lawyer and barrister-at-law in Hong Kong, told the Global Times on Thursday.
The HKPF already has a well-established internal monitoring mechanism, such as appointing an assistant commissioner to oversee and ensure compliance with the Personal Data (Privacy) Ordinance by police officers, Wu said.
In September 2019, the HKPF set up a similar anti-violence hotline for residents to provide information on violent behaviors they wanted to report to the police, during the peak of the anti-extradition bill riots, when Hong Kong witnessed unprecedented violence. The police are reported to have received more than 1.2 million pieces of information within a month.
The hotline is to "assist police in stopping riots and restoring the peace and stability of Hong Kong," the HKPF said in September 2019.
About half an hour after the hotlines were announced, the WeChat account could no longer be added as a contact, due to "too many friend applications at this time."