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Hong Kong moves to limit access to information on company directors

Hong Kong is proposing to restrict the amount of personal information available on company directors in the wake of investigative news reports that used the data to help expose fortunes linked to Chinese leaders.

Under the proposed changes, home addresses and ID card or passport numbers of directors would be obscured in filings starting from the first quarter of 2014. The details could also be removed from historical filings on request.

Currently, anyone can access these details online for a nominal fee. The new law would restrict access to certain groups including law enforcement, regulators and liquidators.

The provisions were contained in a consultation document submitted to the legislature this week. They have worried investors and the media as the changes could make it harder to document cases of corruption or malfeasance.

In one high-profile case last year, a detailed report by Bloomberg on the wealth of relatives of China's new top leader, Xi Jinping, relied on identity card numbers mined from company filings. The New York Times also used such data for articles about the wealth of Premier Wen Jiabao's family.

The changes proposed by the Financial Services and Treasury Bureau and the Companies Registry are aimed at updating existing regulations and increasing privacy protection, according to the consultation document.

The Hong Kong Journalists Association worried that openness was being sacrificed.

The group said in a statement that access to the information has helped uncover illegal activities by government officials, politicians and business people.

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Online:

Consultation document: http://bit.ly/VOLuHq