Two mobile phones storing the private details of 122 people under coronavirus quarantine have gone missing from a government building in what police are investigating as suspected theft.
The devices holding the names, locations, photographs and other personal data of those subject to home quarantine orders disappeared from a temporary communications centre at the Customs and Excise Department's headquarters, according to the Office of the Government Chief Information Officer (OGCIO).
They were found to be missing on Tuesday night when OGCIO staff performed a stocktake of 170 smartphones at the centre in North Point, which was set up earlier this month to help administer the quarantine scheme.
The Samsung and Xiaomi phones were used by civil servants and volunteers to check up on quarantined Hongkongers, including via video call. The centre is staffed by about 200 people with about 60 to 70 working each shift.
"A total of 122 persons had been contacted via the two mobile phones for monitoring purposes," the OGCIO said.
"Names, telephone numbers, shared locations and photos of these persons but no detailed addresses are stored in the phones.
"The mobile phones are password-protected with information encrypted. The OGCIO has already terminated the communication services of the two phones."
The OGCIO has reported the incident to police and the Office of the Privacy Commissioner for Personal Data.
It said all those affected had been informed and reminded to sever any contact with the missing devices.
"The OGCIO expressed regret about the incident and offered its sincerest apologies to those affected," the office said, adding it had immediately stepped up information security to avoid the recurrence of similar incidents.
Privacy Commissioner for Personal Data Stephen Wong Kai-yi had received a report of the incident, which had been classified as a data leak, and an investigation would be launched, according to the watchdog.
A law enforcement source said no surveillance cameras were fitted in the centre, which sits on the 15th floor, but lift lobbies and public corridors at the Customs' headquarters were covered by CCTV.
On Wednesday evening, officers from the Eastern district crime squad were sent to the building to gather evidence. Police are treating the case as "requested police investigation".
The Post reported on Tuesday that the government had spent HK$260,000 (US$33,500) on the 170 phones. According to OGCIO, their unit price is around HK$1,500, with a monthly subscription charge of HK$58.
The spokesman said the devices would be redeployed for other uses when they were no longer required for the quarantine scheme.
A Customs spokesman said: "The incident has been reported to Hong Kong police to follow up and we will offer assistance if necessary."
According to the Compulsory Quarantine of Certain Persons Arriving at Hong Kong Regulation, all travellers not exempted are subject to mandatory quarantine of 14 days if they have been in mainland China in the two weeks before arriving in Hong Kong.
Contravening the quarantine requirement is a crime, and offenders face a maximum fine of HK$25,000 (US$3,200) and imprisonment of up to six months.
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