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Hong Kong Moves To Limit Info On Company Directors

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 proposals "are negative for transparency," said David Webb, a well-known shareholder activist. "They make it harder for investors, researchers, journalists and members of the public to find connections between individuals and companies. That makes it harder to expose corruption."

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 a consultation document released in November.

There is still a chance that the provisions could be amended by lawmakers.

The Hong Kong Journalists Association said it strongly opposes the move, considering it "a serious limitation on investigative reporting" and "an infringement of the public interest." The group said in a statement that access to the information has helped uncover illegal activities by government officials, politicians and business people. The Foreign Correspondents Club of Hong Kong also objected, posting an open letter calling on the city's leader, Leung Chun-ying, to withdraw the proposals.

Webb said he wasn't so concerned about home addresses being obscured as he was with identity numbers. In many cases, names are the only piece of information that can be used to make a connection with other people or shell companies. And if research turns up people who have the exact same names, like John Smith or, in Hong Kong, the equally common Chan Wai-ming, the numbers are the only way to distinguish between them.

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Joe McDonald in Beijing, Elaine Kurtenbach in Tokyo and Youkyung Lee in Seoul contributed to this report.

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