Insights & Analyses

Personal data of 3.7M Hong Kong voters stolen after election

March 29, 2017

Hong Kong may be facing the largest data breach in its history, after personal information on all of the territory’s 3.7 million registered voters was stolen following last week’s chief executive election.

Two laptops containing the voter information were reported missing from a locked room in an election back-up site on Lantau Island on the afternoon of March 27, the according to the South China Morning Post reports. The computers stored addresses, identification numbers, and cell phone numbers.

Law enforcement officials are investigating the case as a theft, and no arrests have been made.

Hong Kong’s Office of the Privacy Commissioner for Personal Data stressed in a statement that the information on the stolen computers was encrypted, though because personal data may have been compromised, the office will be launching its own review of the incident. There is currently no evidence that data from the stolen devices has been leaked online.

Authorities have not disclosed why information on so many Hong Kong residents was held on the missing computers. Though all registered voters can participate in local and legislative elections, only 1,194 of them were eligible to cast a ballot for chief executive on March 26. This select group of Hong Kong’s business and political elite comprise the Election Committee that voted Carrie Lam into Hong Kong’s top office. Full names of Election Committee members were also stored on the stolen computers, though that information is publicly available.

The breach will likely exacerbate an already tense political environment in the city. This election is the first since widespread pro-democracy protests brought Hong Kong to a standstill in the fall of 2014, and some of the movement’s leaders were arrested on public nuisance charges just this week. Those protests were in response to enduring fears that Hong Kong’s autonomy, and the conduct of its elections, are increasingly under threat from Chinese government influence.