Hundreds Of Hong Kong Cops Illegally Accessed Woman’s Case File After Her Arrest For Public Indecency
from the cops-in-a-police-state-are-just-like-cops-everywhere-else dept
Cops gonna cop, as Rachel Cheung reports for Vice.
Hundreds of police officers in Hong Kong improperly accessed a woman’s case file after she was arrested for allegedly having sex on the balcony of a high-rise residential building, local media reported this week.
A clip that showed a naked couple fornicating on the balcony of a private apartment went viral in June. Taken from an adjacent building apparently without their knowledge, the video led to the arrest of a 36-year-old woman and a 30-year-old man.
Cops accessing sensitive information improperly is something that spans cultures and nations. A cop using their powers to take a peek at data they have no legitimate reason to access isn’t something limited to the worst cop shops or nations where law enforcement agencies have been given an outsized amount of power.
And the Hong Kong police have plenty of power. Thanks to the Chinese government’s incessant meddling, Hong Kong has become a literal police state, led by John Lee, the former Secretary of Security who headed up police efforts during crackdowns on pro-democracy protesters, and whose current Secretary of Security is former police commissioner Chris Tang.
So, the surprising thing isn’t that widespread misconduct — this time taking the form of hundreds of cops taking a peek at a woman arrested for exposing it all — is occurring in Hong Kong’s freshly minted police state. It’s that Hong Kong police officials actually bothered to open an investigation into this widespread abuse of power. According to Cheung, an internal investigation was opened when the problem became too big to ignore, what with one case file being accessed hundreds of times. And it appears officers shared this information with others via WhatsApp and other messaging services.
That being said, nothing is going to happen to these officers because the Hong Kong PD believes (1) the problem isn’t that big, and (2) the problem is too big to handle.
According to local newspaper Mingpao, the force said officers did not commit a criminal offense as they merely acted “out of curiosity.” Another report said the investigation did not result in severe punishment because too many officers, including senior ones, were involved.
It doesn’t matter which law enforcement agency you work for: “curiosity” isn’t a justification for accessing the personal information of others. It’s the “boys will be boys” excuse, but at scale. An agency that commands the budget the Hong Kong PD does should never be able to get away with pretending any problem is too big to handle, but it will get away with this because it really answers to no one but (perhaps) the Chinese government that wants to keep its boot heel on the neck of Hong Kong residents who’d rather have more freedom and democracy.
The supposed deterrent here is the law, which provides punishment of up to five years in prison for violators. But the deterrent means nothing if the PD is unwilling to enforce the rules — something that aligns it not only with authoritarian regimes, but with hundreds of police agencies in freer countries where officer discipline is largely theoretical.