Charles Mok: Well myself, I started out in the Internet world probably when I was a student. You know, freshman year we got to use the Internet. When I got into college—that was almost thirty-five years ago. But afterwards, later on in Hong Kong, I started one of the early Internet service providers back in the mid to late 1990s. And then working with other people, we basically brought the commercial Internet to Hong Kong from the days of narrowband connectivity, modems, dialup, to broadband.
And now my role moving beyond from more of a commercial Internet service provider background or role, I’m now in the legislature. So I can say that I work for the government, because in the legislature we only get paid by the government to be against the government. So my role as a legislator these days I think is to help enhance the awareness about the various issues, and maybe tackle some of the misunderstanding about Internet and technology and IT in general from the community. You know, we are faced with all these questions and problems about the Internet. People talking about cyberbullying, people talking about terrorism, or all these frauds on the Internet. And people talking about all these worries about security and privacy on the one hand, and on the other hand we’re talking about open data and sharing, you know. Where do we get the balance? How do we get more people to really understand the social as well as to some extent also the technology behind it So that they can make the right decision for themselves or for their children, or even for young people to understand where the Internet is going to—which direction it’s going to, and to decide for themselves where they can take their own innovation and creativity to be a part of the future of the Internet and this whole technology evolution.
So I think on a grander scale I would hope that I would be able to enhance the sort of community understanding and actually also advise or push the government in certain directions to make sure that you know in terms of regulations and laws and so on, they would be hopefully doing the right thing. And not setting up a laws that would be counter to the development of this technology and how people use it and first and foremost probably also how to protect the freedom of expression on the Internet.
Intertitle: Describe the current state of the Internet both globally and in Hong Kong.
Mok: Well I think the state of the Internet today generally is that it’s used by more and more people and different kinds of people. The average people sometimes, somehow probably not the kind of people that the Internet was originally designed for. A lot of the common users, young people—even older people these days. But particularly in Hong Kong I think— Okay, back to what I was saying before. I think that there are pros and cons in that. Obviously the more common people and [indistinct] people with a lesser technology background and so on, they might be using the Internet in such a way that the Internet wasn’t originally designed for. And there comes most of the problems that people perceive the Internet has these days in terms of security, privacy, or frauds and all kinds of problems.
But in particular I think where we are in Hong Kong today, I think the biggest concern on the mind of a lot of the Internet users is how do we preserve a free and open Internet in Hong Kong, particularly because we’re in a very precarious and interesting situation of one country, two systems within the People’s Republic of China, and we are probably the only place, or one of the two only places in the whole of the People’s Republic of China with a free and open Internet. Ourselves and maybe to an extent also the Macau Special Administrative Region.
Now, we understand and know that is a very important—the most important part of the success of the Internet and how we use it for business and life and so on. But obviously China itself has this Great Firewall that is also very sophisticated and getting more and more sophisticated every day. So how do we balance and how do we make sure that that kind of regulation is not going to happen in Hong Kong? I think that is in the back of the mind of many of the users here, that they know that they have to make sure that they maintain the free and open Internet that we have here.
Intertitle: What action should be taken to ensure the best possible future?
Mok: I think awareness is most important. People should be aware that you know, there might be different ways that either the governmental or other people or other authorities or other even business interests may come out and have certain proposals or actions that might influence or impact their right to use the Internet, users’ rights. Things such as you know, in the name of intellectual property, in the name of security and privacy, and so on.
And of course you know, technology and the Internet is impacting lots of the traditional ways of thinking and the ways of operations, ways that things are being done. And every day, in any parts of the world, even in the Western world, this is happening. So we need to make sure that users are also still going to be aware of these issues and not just go about and simply worrying “Okay, I get my broadband, I get my wireless access. Is fast enough or if it’s cheap enough?” You know, those consumer issues aside, how do we make sure that users understand that policies that may have to do with intellectual property to begin with, or issues or laws that have to do with certain rights to use the Internet may have an impact on their freedom of expression or even freedom of access in the future.