A group of the industry which includes all the largest Internet companies in the United States have shown concern to the Hong Kong government about the changes in Hong Kong’s data protection laws which might affect the development of these companies to provide services in Hong Kong.
The June 25 letter raised objections to a wide range of new regulations to curb human flesh searches. The Hong Kong government has enacted strict new regulations to control online speech, and this letter is the latest sign of the difficulties that technology companies are facing in Hong Kong.
Hong Kong used to be a safe haven for Internet freedom. It is located at the doorstep of the Internet under China’s strict control. It is also the location of the offices and servers of many major Internet companies. However, according to the recent national security law, the city’s Internet faces a new reality where the authorities have extensive surveillance and censorship powers. This makes people increasingly doubt the feasibility of continued operations of large Internet companies here.
The Asia Internet Coalition, which is headquartered in Singapore and represents Apple, Amazon, Google, Facebook, and other technology companies, warned in the letter that the new rules would “have a serious impact on due process and endanger the freedom of speech and communication.”
The letter said that what is particularly worrying is that if technology companies do not respond to the new human flesh search rules, the general wording may give the police the legal sanction and flexibility to impose fines and, at the extreme, arrest the local employees.
The Asian Internet Alliance said in a statement that the letter reflects the views of the industry and not the policies or plans of any particular company. Since the Hong Kong pro-democracy protests in 2019, debates about online speech have often focused on human flesh searches. After the police stopped wearing the warrant card during the protest, a large number of websites and channels for identifying the police appeared. In turn, the website supporting the police posted information about the protesters.
The authorities are already using national security laws to curb this practice. In January this year, a website that had previously published personal police information was shut down. This is the first known website shut down under the law. According to the new regulations, anyone who publishes other people’s private information for the purpose of harassing, threatening, or intimidating may face up to five years in prison and a fine of more than $100,000. Soon after the law was promulgated, Facebook, Google, and Twitter all stated that they had suspended responding to Hong Kong authorities’ data requests. Last month, the Hong Kong police invoked the law and briefly shut down a website calling on overseas Hong Kong people to unite in support of the democratic movement.