ANM fears way government, Alibaba intend to handle data

The New Macau Association (ANM) is calling for the government to halt its cooperation with tech giant Alibaba until details of the “smart city plan” are made available for public scrutiny.

According to ANM president Sulo Sou, the association fears that a government monopoly on big data and cloud technologies will imperil liberal democracy.

In a press conference held yesterday, the association demanded that the government take steps to ensure that residents remain informed of any statistics derived from data obtained by smart city technology.

The pro-democracy group recalled its findings that local police authorities are keen on obtaining the identities of residents interested in participating in social activism or demonstrations.

Sou noted that ANM’s apprehension regarding big data stems from the local government’s recent circumvention of an open tender process, in which it chose to grant the construction of a cloud infrastructure to Alibaba, the world’s largest retail giant.

The group added that the reported “complete neglect of due process by the Macau government” not only undermines public confidence but minimizes the value of the region’s public money by forgoing proposals from other competitors in the market.

The four-year deal, which was signed on Saturday, will turn Macau into a “smart city.” To be conducted in two phases, the plan seeks to accelerate Macau’s development in several key areas: namely, tourism, information technology training, transportation management, medical services and urban management.

However, ANM criticized the region’s lack of transparency, claiming that the unchecked opaqueness of the local government’s processes has remained a key issue in the region.

The group contends that the government has exhibited an increasing lack of transparency in the past few years.

“The physical presence of data in Macau is just a basic statutory requirement and is in no way an excuse for the government’s non-transparency,” Sou noted.

Meanwhile, Jason Chao, the leader of Project Just Macau, added that the government has a questionable track record in terms of its respect for citizens’ privacy. He cited ANM’s accusations against the Office for Personal Data Protection (GPDP) back in 2015 that the bureau had authorized the police to access citizens’ personal data.

“Alibaba had some business issues with an express courier in violation to exchange of data. That incident was widely reported [so] we have a legitimate reason to doubt Alibaba’s motives in collecting a large amount of data [with] its business partners,” said Chao, the former vice-president of ANM.

“Both parties have questionable records in handling personal data. We, [as] residents of Macau, have legitimate reasons to cast doubt on this big data project,” he stressed.

ANM has also demanded that the government make open data a priority, in parallel with the big data projects for government use.

Chao emphasized that an open data policy is a feature of highly democratic countries. As such, it would be significant for residents – especially the technologically-literate – for data to be made available in order to democratize access to data.

“The Macau government is very bad in its openness and it’s a shame. The opaqueness has been complained about by ANM for so many years,” said Chao.

“Despite Chui Sai On’s campaign slogan of bringing about a ‘sunshine government,’ we haven’t seen it materialize as his terms is ending in three years’ time.”

Chao said that ANM was more concerned about the manner in which Alibaba and the government intended to handle the data, rather than the transfer of data per se, or other privacy issues.

He expressed his hopes that local citizens would fully understand that these proposed technical developments would soon have a significant impact on residents.

“We don’t know whether or not [the] data of Macau citizens will become part of the rogue AI development in China […] It will be too late when [residents] realize it later,” Chao said.

Although Chao admitted that there are benefits to the collaboration, he reminded residents to be aware of the risks of using artificial intelligence under a “non-transparent government.”

Project to ensure fair elections

Project Just Macau is a platform created by Chao to monitor election fairness in the Macau in April, following his resignation from ANM on March 31. The project aims to be a platform for whistleblowers, and Chao expressed his hoped that regulations would be created to protect whistleblowers from retaliation. Chao will run the project until election day, September 17, and pledged to disclose all information obtained through the project. After one unsuccessful run to the Legislative Assembly, the activist cited his recent diagnosis with Asperger syndrome as one of the reasons behind his decision to withdraw from the next election. “In Macau, reaching out to a broad community is essential to winning a seat and I’m not a good fit for this role. In order to come to a decision, we have to take a lot of factors into account and I have to admit that is one of the factors,” Chao said. The activist is set to go back to the UK on September 23, and told the press yesterday that he plans to join the fight against Brexit.

Chao criticizes CAEAL regulations

Jason Chao slammed the controversial Electoral Affairs Commission for the Legislative Assembly Election (CAEAL) regulations on social media postings, on the basis that the rules excessively restrict citizens’ freedom of expression.

Chao recalled that the only major problem during elections over the past eight years was unfair treatment of candidates. This issue is not apparent in this year’s election.

“The requirement of complete removal [of social media posts] is nonsense. It’s an excessive restriction on freedom of expression,” he said.

Sou also confirmed that he had informed CAEL that there were technical difficulties in complying with the regulations, as it would be difficult to eradicate all posts and information relating to its platform from the last few months.

The ANM president also stressed that he did not deactivate his account but had simply hidden some of his posts. 

Meanwhile, Chao also notified the press that he had gathered information on a so-called illegal campaign involving allegations of coercion in schools, but declined to reveal the number of complaints Project Just Macau received.

Chao noted that he had not received any external complaints after the alleged coercion in April.

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