In a new clash between big tech companies and the Chinese regime, a group that brings together industry representatives – including Facebook, Google and Twitter – have warned that it would cease operating in Hong Kong if local authorities adopted a new law to protect technology. .
For platforms, the new legislation could be used to prosecute their own employees or users who post criticism of the Hong Kong government and China. The territory command denies that the project was made with this intention.
The threat to cease operations in Hong Kong is contained in a letter sent to the local government by the Asia Internet Coalition (AIC), a group that represents a number of tech companies operating in the region, including the three US giants.
In May, the Hong Kong Bureau of Constitutional Affairs proposed amendments to data protection laws that make doxing, a practice of disclosing personal information to third parties, which can trigger waves of cyber-harassment and harassment. ‘other types of attacks.
According to the proposal, anyone involved in doxing with the intent to threaten, intimidate, harass or cause psychological harm can be sentenced to up to five years in prison and a fine of up to up to one million Honcongue dollars (652,000 BRL).
In the letter to Hong Kong, AIC chief executive Jeff Paine argues that if the group and its members oppose the practice of doxing, the vague text of the proposed amendments could mean that platforms and, in In particular, its Hong Kong-based employees will be subject to criminal investigation and prosecution for violations committed by users.
“The only way to avoid these sanctions for technology companies would be to refrain from investing and offering services in Hong Kong,” the document said. The letter was sent on June 25, but its information was not published until Monday (5) by the Wall Street Journal.
For Paine, sanctioning platforms would represent a “totally disproportionate and unnecessary response”. In addition, according to the AIC, the amendments could also restrict freedom of expression and criminalize “innocent acts of online information sharing”.
In response to the US newspaper, a spokeswoman for the Hong Hong Privacy Commission confirmed receipt of the AIC’s letter and said the new rules were necessary to combat doxing, which “tests the limits of morality and the law “.
Still according to the representative of the Honcongue authorities, the amendments have no relation to freedom of expression, and the scope of the crimes will be clearly defined in the new legislation. In addition, the Commission “vehemently refutes any suggestion that the changes might in any way affect foreign investment in Hong Kong”.
Representatives from Facebook, Twitter and Google confirmed that AIC sent the letter, but declined to comment on its content. Last year, the three companies announced that they would suspend processing of requests for private user data made by Hungarian authorities under the newly enacted national security law.
The opportunity to leave Hong Kong in response to proposed changes to the law comes at a time when the former British colony is witnessing a series of similar actions from other companies. Many companies have left the territory in search of more favorable conditions in other regions and in reaction to increasing interference from Beijing.
The National Security Law, for example, was created to punish any act that China considers to be subversion, secession, terrorism, or collusion with foreign forces. Hundreds of pro-democracy activists and protesters were arrested less than a year after the new rules, and last month one of Beijing’s most critical newspapers in the territory, the Apple Daily, was forced to close.
In this context, the fear is that the proposed amendments to the anti-doxing law will become new instruments of repression against dissidents. Depending on how the legislation is drafted, it can punish, for example, social media posts that show the faces of police and other security force officers at protests such as those that have brought together thousands of people. people on the streets of Hong Kong over the past two years. in pro-democracy demonstrations.
During the 2019 acts, for example, doxing entered the radar of the Hungarian authorities after personal information of police officers, such as the addresses of their homes and their children’s schools, was published on social media.
The concern is also based on other parts of the proposed changes, such as the one calling for the Privacy Commission to have the power to request any information deemed relevant from those subject to investigation and investigation. require that they be subjected to questioning when there are “reasonable grounds” to suspect the practice of doxing.
In addition, the entity could order anyone to “correct” the posted content. Under these conditions, anyone who refuses to comply with the requirements can also be charged with breaking the law.
The proposal also calls for the Privacy Commission to be able to seek search warrants and take legal action to “speed up the processing of doxing cases.”
According to the Office of Constitutional Affairs, the measure is justified by the fact that private data shared with one click can cause immediate damage to victims, which would require faster action on the part of the authorities.