Hong Kong cybercrime laws are years behind its advanced technologies

It seems that while Hong Kong is one of the leading wired cities in the world, its laws on cyber crime do not correspond to the issues associated with a mature Internet society. As this technological progress drives online business opportunities such as online shopping and online entertainment, it’s also attracting cybercriminals who take advantage of the situation.

A case cited by South China Morning Post is that of Marita Kwan who, just after making book purchase out of a small Internet retailer, found her credit card details copied and used to spend thousands  of dollars of goods and services in Korea. Unfortunately, this is not an isolated case anymore.

And why not? Hong Kong’s high Internet penetration – about 80 per cent of households maintain broadband connection – allows great amount of selection of opportunities to commit crime. Couple that with poor Internet laws and lack of necessary security features among certain websites operating in the city, cyber crooks are virtually guaranteed to get away with the crimes they commit.  Less than 3 per cent of reported crimes – many others may be unreported – are brought to justice.

Michelle Chan of Herbert Smith law firm, notes that existing computer crime laws were meant to address problems that existed in the early 1990s, even before the Internet has gone mainstream. After that, there was little progress in developing laws that deter cybercrime. Needless to say, these laws lack teeth in preventing current security problems on the web, including the growing trend of identity theft, which allows cyber criminals to impersonate victims online. I wonder if officials are aware that someone else can pretend to be me, check my email, uses my credit card and accesses private information without my permission.

Remember the Edison Chen photo scandal that rocked Hong Kong in 2008? The police, while prompt at what they do, was the recipient of numerous criticisms that can be traced to the city’s lack of appropriate law to address such type of crime. While the purpose of subsequent crackdown was to minimize the spread of illicit photos, the police was accused of creating unnecessary fear among members of the Internet community due to suspected police bias. In case we’ve forgotten, it’s also the year when Hong Kong’s .hk domain was named the most dangerous according to McAfee. Last year, an estimated 4,000 zombies – infected computers that send spam mails without owners’ knowledge – were active in Hong Kong, making the city the world’s spam capital.

Another problem that’s on the rise is identity theft, where cyber criminals impersonate a victim after stealing valuable information such as account passwords, credit card numbers that constitute someone’s virtual identity, same as the case of Kwan. There is an existing Theft Ordinance that protects against Internet theft. But it does not exist without loopholes; as long as the victim can use his or her account online its value isn’t considered diminished, even if it may have been used by cyber criminals.

The growing popularity of social networking sites posed as a big headache to authorities who already have their hands full of problems to solve. Lack of awareness on possible consequences of carelessly disclosing sensitive information on the part of members in a social networking group further exacerbates the problem. Worse, the lack of severe punishment for hacking and ability chase cyber criminals beyond Hong Kong left the police to doing nothing but just gather evidence.

As the public continutes to wait for a potent law against cyber crimes to be passed, the government’s seemingly hand’s off approach could inevitably backfire in irreversibly amidst the ever growing threat to personal and property security online.