A barrister from the Progressive Lawyers Group says the move by the government to narrow the permitted purposes of a car plate search last year may be challenged in court.
The case of RTHK producer Bao Choy, who worked on programmes on the July 21 Yuen Long mob attack last year and was charged with violating the Road Traffic Ordinance by allegedly making false statements when conducting vehicle registration searches, puts the spotlight on a change made to the Department of Transport's application form late last year.
Barrister Duncan Ho from the Progressive Lawyers Group said on Wednesday that it could be very easy for journalists to violate the law following the change.
Currently, the choice of purposes for people who conduct searches are "for legal proceedings", "sale and purchase of vehicle" and "other traffic and transport related matters".
Up until a year ago, the category "other traffic and transport related matters" was known as "others", which reporters could have used to file an application to obtain information by specifying their purposes.
Ho told RTHK's Frances Sit that journalists who were not aware of the change could break the law.
But he also said the new rule could be the subject of a judicial review on the grounds of press freedom.
"The limitation of the application for register being limited to those three purposes without an option for the media to obtain those information for news investigation or news reporting purposes would contravene the guaranteed press freedom under the Basic Law," he said.
The barrister also said the permitted purpose requirement was added because of privacy concerns. He pointed out that it has been included in the Department of Transport's application form since 2003, with authorities having taken the Personal Data (Privacy) Ordinance into consideration.
But he said according to the ordinance that aims to safeguard the privacy of individuals, journalistic activities are exempt from data protection provisions.