Facebook, Twitter, Google Warn China Over Hong Kong

Issue 78

As Beijing continues to expand its incursion into Hong Kong and continues to dismantle its autonomy, American tech giants have privately warned the Hong Kong government that they could stop offering their services in the city if authorities proceed with planned changes to data protection laws that could make them liable for the malicious sharing of individuals’ information online.

A letter sent by a Facebook, Twitter, and Google backed industry group said companies are concerned that the planned rules to address doxing could put their staff at risk of criminal investigations or prosecutions related to what the firms’ users post online. Doxing refers to the practice of putting people’s personal information online so they can be harassed by others.

Hong Kong’s Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Bureau in May proposed amendments to the city’s data-protection laws that it said were needed to combat doxing, a practice that was prevalent during 2019 protests in the city. The proposals call for punishments of up to $1 million HKD, the equivalent of about $128,800 USD, and up to five years’ imprisonment.

“The only way to avoid these sanctions for technology companies would be to refrain from investing and offering the services in Hong Kong,” said the previously unreported June 25 letter from the Singapore-based Asia Internet Coalition.

Beijing’s proposals could make tech firms and their Hong Kong-based employees subject to criminal prosecution for the actions of their users.  This may ultimately be the intent of the proposals, create an untenable compliance environment for western-based firms and strip Hong Kong residents of their ability to effectively organize and coordinate demonstrations.  An effort Beijing has been continuously seeking creative ways to suppress since March of 2019.

Source: Wall Street Journal