It is hard to imagine life now without computers and the internet. The drivers of the information revolution have changed our lives in previously unimaginable ways. This revolution has resulted in the creation, dissemination, storage and use of information and data in myriad forms and massive quantities.
How we make sense and make use of this information; how we make it available or protect it from improper use, present complex challenges. In Hong Kong, we pride ourselves on being a city that enjoys the free flow of information. We uphold the freedom of expression and of the press, of the people’s right to know as core values.
Information about government policies, decisions and actions, comprehensively recorded and accessible to the public, helps to hold power to account. Information, in the form of intelligence, can help to prevent and detect crime. But at the same time, we need to protect personal privacy rights and prevent information and data theft.
In the April 2017 issue of Varsity, we try to explore some of the complex issues around information in our society today.
We start by looking at the recording of government business and retention of information in the administration. The lack of an archives law means the government is not legally bound to retain internal documents and records of its inner workings, to be made public at a later date. We talk to the keepers of information – professional archivists, veteran journalists and scholars who recognise the need for an archives law and value the importance of information.
With so much data now being created, collected and stored, there is enormous potential for it to be put to use. Openness is crucial to unleashing the maximum value of information. The government has repeatedly affirmed the need to develop Hong Kong into a smart city. With this in mind it pledged to make government information, such as expenditure, transportation and weather data available to the public. Yet Hong Kong still lags behind other places in the Open Data Index. Varsity talks to open data advocates, apps developers and journalists about the shortcomings of available datasets in Hong Kong.
Our third Periscope story looks at privacy and surveillance. The more we live our lives online and rely on our digital devices, the more we potentially compromise our privacy. Governments, businesses and telecommunications and internet companies are collecting large amounts of information about us. Yet the laws protecting us from government snooping do not cover our online communication and digital data. We talk to political activists and experts who tell us about their concerns over the lack of privacy protection. But we also hear about how journalists find the government uses privacy as an excuse to withhold information.
This issue of Varsity also features a wide range of stories – from the struggles of school dropouts to how social media players leverage their influence, and from profiles of artist Yeung Sau-Churk and former Director of Public Prosecutions Grenville Cross to Hong Kong’s feral cattle. Enjoy the read!