Internet Pimps in Hong Kong

In Hong Kong, prostitution is not illegal per se.  However, living off the earnings of prostitution is against the law.  Here is the relevant section of the law (via InterPol)

‘Living on the earnings of prostitution of others’, Article 137 of the Penal Code, ‘Crimes’, CAP. 200

'(1) A person who knowingly lives wholly or in part on earnings of prostitution of another shall be guilty of an offence and shall be liable on conviction on indictment to imprisonment for ten (10) years.

(2) For the purposes of subsection (1), a person who lives with or is habitually in the company of a prostitute, or who exercises control, direction or influence over another person’s movements in a way which shows he or she is aiding, abetting or compelling that other person’s prostitution with others, shall be presumed to be knowingly living on the earnings of prostitution, unless he or she proves the contrary.'

There is a court trial going on with a twist on the classical pimp role.  The technological enabler is the Internet.

The following details are culled from Apple Daily, Ming Pao and Oriental Daily.

The two individuals on trial are a 37-year-old male named Cheung and a 28-year-old named Chen.  The two are accused of conspiring between March 1 to September 9, 2003 to profit from the earnings of prostitution.

According to the prosecutor, the two established a company known as KCMC Limited Company and used the name of the company to rent server space on the Hong Kong Internet Service Provider Newsbook Limited.  They hired a web developer and launched the website  This website is a sex directory for Hong Kong, in which girls are listed by district, apartment building, street addresses, age, physical measurement, service ratings and fee.  Ini order to get listed, the girls have to pay HK$4,000.  This is a full-service operation as the men will show up at the 'workplace' to take photos and details, and then post the information into the directory.  The website reportedly gets 100,000 page views per day.

In July 2003, the website came to the attention of the police.  On September 8, the police conducted a regular sweep of a 'place of ill repute' in Tsim Sha Tsui and arrested Cheung, who was taking photographs of the prostitutes at the time.  The officers found a digital camera with the photographs of several prostitutes.  A search of the apartments and company of the two individuals then yielded the business cards for, the ISP contract and several computers with as many as 600,000 obscene photographs.

Under the theory that the two individuals must know that they were deriving income from women that they must know are prostitutes and that their web service aids and abets prostitution, the two were prosecuted accordingly.  While awaiting trial, the two were out on bail and have probably continued to operate through another ISP.  The trial is limited to their activities in the stated period only.

Here is what a typical listing at 

Furthermore, they will provide detailed photo-illustrated travel instructions -- a view from the street, the stairwell and the apartment door.  On the apartment door, there is a description of the occupant: 'a light-skinned, clean and pretty girl with big tits.'  But watch out for the little red sign to the left -- "Please wait a moment."  She is working right now.

Here is a question -- there is probable cause to believe that violated the Hong Kong law at the time.  The Hong Kong-based ISP provided the police with information on the user.  But the website is back in business through another ISP.  Consider, for example, that this particular ESWN blog is hosted by Yahoo! in California (USA).  If were hosted by Yahoo! in California as well, would the ISP be obliged to cooperate with Hong Kong law enforcement?  Is there even any crime for transnational Internet-based pimping?  Probably not, if according to this previous post The Greatest Internet Crime Trial in China.  Then those two men in this case are really being tried for being stupid enough to use a Hong Kong-based ISP.

(SCMP)  Defence plea over ads for prostitutes.  By Nick Gentle.  November 13, 2005.

Defence counsel Giles Surman said the men deserved leniency as this was the first case of its kind in Hong Kong, and sex advertisements were common in the city.  Mr Surman said the charges had been hanging over the men since late 2003 and, but for this "aberration", they were honest citizens.  "They saw all these advertisements for prostitutes on every corner in Hong Kong and they thought they could do it electronically."

When Justice Wahab asked if it mattered the ads were carried online, potentially to a global audience, the defence said no.  Because an ad was online did not necessarily make it more effective. The success of the ads was not relevant to the case, he said.  "The defendants are just like newspaper or magazine proprietors - they frankly don't care about the effectiveness of the advertisements because they already have their money."

He suggested a fine or community service would be appropriate.