An industry group representing America’s largest internet companies warned the Hong Kong government that changes to the city’s privacy laws could affect companies’ ability to provide services in the city.
The June 25 letter questioning general new rules to curb doxxing – the targeted disclosure of individuals’ private information – was the latest sign of the dilemma facing tech companies in Hong Kong, where the government is harsh has established new rules to control what is said online.
Once an oasis of internet freedom at the gates of China’s tightly controlled internet, Hong Kong is home to offices and servers for many major internet companies. However, following a new national security law, the city is facing a new digital reality in which the authorities have extensive surveillance and censorship powers. This has increasingly challenged the profitability of continuing operations for large internet companies.
The Singapore-based Asia Internet Coalition, which represents Apple, Amazon, Google, Facebook and other technology companies, warned in the letter that the new rules would “have serious implications for due process and risks to freedom of expression and communication.”
Of particular concern, according to the letter, was the general wording that could give police the power to impose fines and arrest local workers if the tech companies fail to respond to the new doxxing rules.
“The only way to avoid these sanctions for tech companies is to refrain from investing in Hong Kong and offering their services, thereby penalizing Hong Kong businesses and consumers while creating new barriers to trade,” the coalition wrote.
In a statement, the Asia Internet Coalition said the letter reflected an industry view, and not a specific company’s policies or plans. The Wall Street Journal first reported the existence of the letter.
Since the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong in 2019, the debate over online speech has often centered on doxxing. After police officers stopped wearing markings during the protests, a number of websites and channels emerged to help identify them. Pro-police sites, in turn, published information about protesters.
Authorities have already used the national security law to contain the practice. In January, the first known website to be closed under the law published personal information about police officers. Under the new rules, anyone who publishes personal information for harassment, threat or intimidation faces up to five years in prison and a fine of over $ 100,000.
Doxxing is just part of an ongoing proxy struggle for internet freedom in the city. Shortly after the law went into effect, Facebook, Google and Twitter said they had suspended responding to data requests from Hong Kong authorities. Last month, police officers in the city called the law to temporarily shut down a website promoting unity among Hong Kong overseas residents in the pro-democracy movement.
Tiffany May contributed to the coverage.