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Exercising Your Data Access Rights
Under the Personal Data (Privacy) Ordinance

    The Personal Data (Privacy) Ordinance ("the Ordinance") was brought into force in December 1996 to protect the privacy interests of individuals in relation to their personal data. Under the Ordinance, every individual has the right to request another party, e.g. a government department or a company, to confirm whether it holds his or her personal data and to request a copy of any such data. Such requests are called data access requests.

   Common examples of individuals making data access requests include patients requesting copies of their medical records, employees requesting copies of their employment-related records, including performance appraisal reports, and applicants for credit requesting copies of their credit reports.

    To assist individuals to make data access requests, the Privacy Commissioner for Personal Data has issued a Data Access Request Form (No.OPS003).

    Below are some frequently asked questions and answers to assist individuals in making data access requests.



Q1.

How should I make a data access request?

A1.
You should make use of the Data Access Request Form (No.OPS003) issued by the Privacy Commissioner. By providing the information specified in the form you will assist the party concerned to process your request with minimum delay. If you do not use this Form, the party concerned may refuse to comply with your request.



Q2.

Apart from the Form, what other information or documents do I have to provide ? 

A2. You may be asked by the party concerned to show proof of your identity such as your identity card or other identifying documents such as a staff card, medical card or student card. You may also be asked to provide further information to enable the location of the data. In some cases, you may be asked to fill in a standard form of the party concerned, although it is not mandatory to do this. (If you wish to make a data access request on behalf of someone else, see Q&A 7 below as well.)



Q3.

What areas should I pay attention to when filling in the Form?

A3.
You should fill in all parts of the form and be as specific as possible in describing the data to which the request relates. This will assist the party concerned to comply with your request as quickly as possible, and will help to avoid any subsequent disputes.



Q4.

Can I be charged a fee for compliance with my data access request?

A4.
Yes, under the Ordinance, a fee can be charged for complying with a data access request. However, the fee must not be "excessive". That is, the party concerned should not charge more than the direct cost of complying with your request. If you believe that the fee charged for compliance with your data access request is excessive, you should raise the matter with the party concerned. If you are not satisfied with the explanation given, you may lodge a complaint with the Privacy Commissioner's Office (PCO). 



Q5.

Must my data access request be complied with?

A5.
Generally, your data access request must be complied with. However, there are circumstances specified in the Ordinance under which the party concerned should refuse to comply with a data access request. These are: 
  1. when it is not supplied with sufficient information to identify you; or
  2. if the personal data sought under the data access request comprise personal data of another individual and the party concerned cannot comply with the request without disclosing the personal data of that other individual. On the other hand, if the party concerned is satisfied that the other individual has consented to the disclosure, it should comply with the request. In addition, if the party concerned can comply with the request without disclosing the identity of other individual, for example by omitting the names or other identifying particulars, it should do so. 
There are also circumstances under which the party concerned may refuse to comply with a data access request. These are if:
     
  1. the request is not in writing in Chinese or English;
  2. the party is not provided with sufficient information to locate the data requested;
  3. the request follows two or more similar requests;
  4. another party controls the use of the personal data in a way that prohibits the party receiving the request from complying with it;
  5. the request is not made in the Privacy Commissioner's specified form, i.e. Form OPS003 mentioned above; or
  6. there is an applicable exemption from the requirement to comply with an access request provided for in the Ordinance, e.g. if the personal data are held for the purpose of the detection of crime and compliance with the request would be likely to prejudice that purpose, the party concerned may refuse to comply. (For the complete and definitive statement of this and other exemptions reference should be made to the Ordinance.)



Q6.

How long will it take for my data access request to be processed? 

A6.
In general, a party is required to comply with a data access request no later than 40 days after receipt of the request. Even if the party concerned is unable to comply with the request within this period or has valid grounds to refuse to comply, it should reply to you within 40 days, setting out the reasons. If the party is unable to comply with the request within 40 days of its receipt, it should comply with it as soon as practicable thereafter. 



Q7.

Must I make the data access request myself or can I authorise another individual to make a data access request on my behalf?

A7.
Apart from making a data access request yourself, you can authorize another person in writing to make a data access request on your behalf. The authorized person may be required by the party concerned to produce proof of your identity as well as your authorization. Where the requester is a minor, i.e. a person who is under 18, a person with parental responsibility for the individual can make a data access request on the minors behalf. In addition, where an individual is incapable of managing his/her own affairs, a person appointed by the court to manage those affairs can make a data access request on behalf of him or her. In the two latter situations, the person who makes the request on behalf of another individual may be required by the party concerned to provide proof of the identity of the individual whose personal data are sought as well as proof of his/her relationship with that individual. 



Q8.

Can I ask for a copy of personal data supplied in response to my data access request to be in a language of my choice?

A8.
You may make such a request and space is provided in the form for you to do this. However, if the language in which the data are held is not the language specified in the request, the party concerned may choose to provide the copy of the personal data requested in the form of a copy of an original document without providing a translation.



Q9.

Can I specify the form in which I wish to receive a copy of personal data to be provided in compliance with my data access request, e.g. can I ask for the copy to be provided on a floppy disk?

A9.
You may make such a request and space is provided in the form for you to do this. However, if it is not reasonably practicable for the party concerned to supply the copy in the form specified by you, it may provide the copy in another form. For example, if the personal data are on an audio tape and you ask for a hard copy transcript and it is not reasonably practicable to provide the transcript, the party concerned may provide a copy of the tape.



Q10.

What can I do if I find out that my personal data provided in response to a data access request are inaccurate? 

A10.
You can ask for correction of the personal data. This is called a data correction request. Similar to data access requests, there is a general requirement on parties receiving data correction requests to respond within 40 days of the request. If the request is complied with, the party should provide you with a copy of the corrected data. If not, the party should inform you why this has not been done.



Q11.

Is there a special form for making a data correction request?

A11.
No, you should simply make your request in writing and provide whatever information, including supporting documentation, you may have in order to show that the data concerned are inaccurate, and how the data should be corrected.



[This pamphlet is for general reference only. It does not provide an exhaustive guide to the relevant provisions of the Personal Data (Privacy) Ordinance. Readers should refer to the provisions of the Ordinance for a complete and definitive statement of the law.]

Office of the Privacy Commissioner for Personal Data, Hong Kong

August 1999

Reproduction of all or any part of this publication is permitted on the conditions that it is done for a non-profit making purpose and due acknowledgement of this work is made as the source.



 
 
Last revision date: <27 Dec 2012>