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.
Both were detained on suspicion of “outraging public decency,” a common-law offense that is punishable by up to seven years in prison.
Local media reported that the Hong Kong police conducted an internal investigation after a large number of officers logged into the internal system to snoop on the woman and accessed her case file without authorization. Some officers even took photos of her mugshot and shared them with colleagues in WhatsApp groups, the reports said.
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.
In a written reply to VICE World News, the Hong Kong police force said those found to have violated police regulation were disciplined accordingly, but did not disclose details of the punishment as well as the number of officers involved.
Some have questioned the results of the probe.
Linda Wong, executive director of Rainlily, a Hong Kong group that supports female victims of sexual violence, described the incident as shocking.
She noted that Hong Kong passed a new law last year to criminalize the publication of intimate images or videos without consent and officers have received training on how to handle these sensitive materials. “The most important principle in cases related to intimate images is to protect the privacy of the victims,” Wong told VICE World News. “We did not expect officers to knowingly break the law.”
She called on the authorities to review the internal system and disclose the results of the investigation in order to restore public confidence in the force.
Barrister Albert Luk Wai-hung told Mingpao curiosity is not an acceptable reason to exempt officers’ criminal liability.
Luk suggested their actions could constitute misconduct in public office, given officers distributed the image of the woman, whose face was not captured in the initial viral video. Secretly logging in the system to examine information without authorization could also amount to accessing computers with dishonest intent, an offense that could result in up to five years of imprisonment.