IP Addresses as Personal Data Under Hong Kong's Privacy Law: An Introduction to the Access My Info HK Project

[2017] 25(2) Journal of Law, Information & Science

The Chinese University of Hong Kong Faculty of Law Research Paper No. 2017-23

27 Pages Posted: 22 Nov 2017

See all articles by Stuart Hargreaves

Stuart Hargreaves

The Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) - Faculty of Law

Lokman Tsui

The Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) - School of Journalism and Communication; Harvard University - Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society

Date Written: November 1, 2017

Abstract

IP addresses have significant implications for personal privacy: if connected to a particular subscriber, they can reveal a vast range of online behaviour. The question of whether IP addresses are ‘personal data’ under a data protection regime is therefore critical, as such a classification greatly limits the usage to which those addresses can be put absent user consent.

This paper critically reviews the approaches taken to the question of whether IP addresses ought to be classified in this way in Hong Kong and in the European Union (‘EU’). Jurisprudence related to the EU Data Protection Directive and the forthcoming General Data Protection Regulation both treat IP addresses as ‘personal information’. This results in robust protection for IP addresses under European law. In Hong Kong, however, the jurisprudence is limited to two lower court decisions that are inconsistent with one another, and neither show a deep appreciation for the importance IP addresses may have in revealing the behaviour and activities of Hong Kong residents online. The Privacy Commissioner for Personal Data has likewise not shown an interest in challenging the approach taken by the courts thus far regarding this issue.

Noting this relative lack of attention, this paper introduces the Access My Info: Hong Kong (‘AMI:HK’) project. AMI:HK is a platform for users to make data access requests to telecommunications service providers in Hong Kong. The project should reveal if there is consistency in the Hong Kong providers’ approach to their access obligations under the Personal Data (Privacy) Ordinance, in particular the question of whether they treat IP addresses as personal data within the meaning of the law.

Keywords: privacy, law, data protection, hong kong, ISP, internet, telecommunications, information, PDPO, IP addresses

Suggested Citation

Hargreaves, Stuart and Tsui, Lokman, IP Addresses as Personal Data Under Hong Kong's Privacy Law: An Introduction to the Access My Info HK Project (November 1, 2017). [2017] 25(2) Journal of Law, Information & Science; The Chinese University of Hong Kong Faculty of Law Research Paper No. 2017-23. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3074243

Stuart Hargreaves (Contact Author)

The Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) - Faculty of Law ( email )

6F Lee Shau Kee Building
Shatin, New Territories
Shatin, New Territories
Hong Kong

HOME PAGE: http://www.law.cuhk.edu.hk/en/people/info.php?id=20

Lokman Tsui

The Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) - School of Journalism and Communication ( email )

Hong Kong

Harvard University - Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society ( email )

Harvard Law School
23 Everett, 2nd Floor
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

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