The Boss and the Girlfriend

Here is the background.  The Hong Kong Immigration Department is in the process of issuing new "smart" IDs.  Since everyone has to get a new ID card, they needed a process to make sure that not everyone shows up at the office at the same time.  Thus, people must get an appointment first, and those appointments are scheduled to ensure a steady workflow. 

The Immigration Department has an automated system, by which a person calls in by telephone and enters a Hong Kong identity number and a fax number and then the system will send out a fax with the appointment time and date.  Unfortunately, at this time, this computer system cannot verify the identity number of the individual.  That is, you can punch in a fake number and you will receive an appointment.

Enter a 27-year-old government worker.  He has two problems: First, he hates his former supervisor.  Secondly, he wishes that he has more time to chat with girlfriend.  She works at the Smart ID Card Exchange Office, where she is responsible for taking photographs and fingerprints, and she has been overwhelmed by the workload.  So our government worker devised a course of action that would solve both problems.  And that would land him in court.

Beginning April 2004, the defendant made 134 telephone calls from either his own home or from his office to the Immigration Department appointment system.  During these calls, he made a total of about 2,300 fake appointments, while using the voice telephone number of his former supervisor's office as the fax number.  On the worst day, the defendant made 75 appointments during one 35-minute call.

What are the consequences?

For the six month period of those telephone calls, the number of completed appointments out of scheduled appointments dropped from 85% to  70%.  The Immigration Department's computer also crashed on 10 occasions due to the workload.

During the same period, the former supervisor received 30 to 50 telephone calls per day from fax machines, causing serious interference with the conduct of business.  Two months later, the victim asked for a different telephone number, but the calls resumed shortly after.  Finally, the victim connected the telephone to a fax machine, and then she saw that these were all appointment notices for Smart ID Card exchanges.  The matter was then referred to the police.

The defendant has been charged with one count of harrassment and ten counts of criminal destruction.

What is his defense?  The defendant admits to having placed those appointment calls.  However, his lawyer claims that since he had not called the victim directly, the harrassment charge is invalid on technical grounds.  Furthermore, he denies having caused any damage to the computer systems at the Immigration Department because those crashes may have been caused by other factors.  

I don't know about you, but I happen to think that this defense is preposterous.  It gives the rule of law a bad reputation.