Hong Kong Laws Could Drive Out Facebook, Twitter, Google

In Hong Kong, the Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Bureau is slated to enact data protection laws against doxing — making personal information public to enable harassment — which was used during the 2019 protests. Facebook, Alphabet’s Google and Twitter privately warned authorities that the new rules could put their staff at risk of criminal prosecutions, and if enacted, they may shut down their services. Punishment would be a fine of up to 1 million Hong Kong dollars (U.S. $128,800) and up to five years in prison.

The Wall Street Journal reports that the Singapore-based Asia Internet Coalition said, “the only way to avoid these sanctions for technology companies would be to refrain from investing and offering the services in Hong Kong.” As Beijing takes a stronger role in Hong Kong, “the American firms and other tech companies last year said they were suspending the processing of requests from Hong Kong law-enforcement agencies following China’s imposition of a national security law on the city.”

Asia Internet Coalition managing director Jeff Paine said that, “while his group and its members are opposed to doxing, the vague wording in the proposed amendments could mean the firms and their staff based locally could be subject to criminal investigations and prosecution for doxing offenses by their users … [which he deemed a] completely disproportionate and unnecessary response.”

The Coalition “suggested that a more clearly defined scope to violations be considered and requested a videoconference to discuss the situation.”

At the office of the Privacy Commissioner for Personal Data, a spokeswoman reiterated that doxing, which “has tested the limits of morality and the law,” needs to be curbed and that “the amendments will not have any bearing on free speech.” She added that the government “strongly rebuts any suggestion that the amendments may in any way affect foreign investment in Hong Kong.”

Hong Kong has a population of about 7.5 million, and many there have begun self-censoring their posts or getting off social media altogether. WSJ notes that, “foreign firms often cite the free flow of information in Hong Kong as a key factor for being located in the financial hub.”

According to law firm Pinsent Masons’ Hong Kong-based head of technology, media and telecom law Paul Haswell, Hong Kong’s Legislative Council will address the anti-doxing amendments, with a bill expected to be approved “by the end of this legislative year.”

He validated the concerns of Big Tech companies, noting that, “a broad reading of the rules could suggest that even an unflattering photo of a person taken in public, or of a police officer’s face on the basis that this would constitute personal data, could run afoul of the proposed amendments if posted with malice or an intention to cause harm.”

Related:
Hong Kong Tries to Ease Big Tech’s Concerns Over Data Law, The Wall Street Journal, 7/6/21
China Tech Rout Deepens as Beijing Targets Data, U.S. Listings, Bloomberg, 7/6/21
The Tech Cold War’s ‘Most Complicated Machine’ That’s Out of China’s Reach, The New York Times, 7/4/21
China Orders Didi Off App Stores in Escalating Crackdown, The New York Times, 7/4/21
China’s Crackdown on Didi Is a Reminder That Beijing Is in Charge, The New York Times, 7/5/21
Chinese Regulators Suggested Didi Delay Its U.S. IPO, The Wall Street Journal, 7/5/21
Didi Shares Plunge as China’s Probes of U.S.-Listed Firms Jolt Investors, The Wall Street Journal, 7/6/21