Google, Twitter And Facebook Threaten To Leave Hong Kong Over Proposed Privacy Law

by Bhaswati Guha Majumder - Jul 6, 2021 12:34 PM
Google, Twitter And Facebook Threaten To Leave Hong Kong Over Proposed Privacy LawGoogle, Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp logo (Representative image)
Snapshot
  • Google, Twitter and Facebook warned that if Hong Kong's privacy regulations are changed, these companies may no longer be able to offer their services in the Chinese territory.

    Carrie Lam, the Chief Executive of Hong Kong, brushed off the warning from the tech and said her government was committed to moving forward with the new regulations as quickly as possible.

Major tech giants Google, Facebook and Twitter, have warned that if Hong Kong's privacy regulations are changed, these companies may no longer be able to offer their services in the Chinese territory. The warning was issued in a letter from the Asia Internet Coalition (AIC), which includes all three companies, as well as Apple, LinkedIn and others as the members.

Proposed changes to Hong Kong's privacy laws could subject individuals to "severe sanctions," according to the letter sent on 25 June to the territory's privacy commissioner for personal data, Ada Chung Lai-ling, without specifying what those sanctions would be. According to the Wall Street Journal, the letter also added that "introducing sanctions aimed at individuals is not aligned with global norms and trends". Additionally, the letter said: "The only way to avoid these sanctions for technology companies would be to refrain from investing and offering their services in Hong Kong, thereby depriving Hong Kong businesses and consumers, whilst also creating new barriers to trade".

AIC managing director Jeff Paine acknowledged in the six-page document that the proposed amendments focus on individual safety and personal data privacy. He also wrote that "we wish to stress that doxing is a matter of serious concern". Additionally, the letter said any "anti-doxing" law "must be built upon principles of necessity and proportionality".

However, Carrie Lam, the Chief Executive of Hong Kong, on 6 July has brushed off the warning from the tech. She told reporters that the proposed reforms would only apply to criminal "doxing," or the practice of revealing information—of an individual or organization—online without their permission. During the Hong Kong protest in 2019, this practise was called into question after the personal data of police officers were leaked online. Some of the cops' home locations and children's schools were also revealed, putting them and their families in danger.

In the present scenario, Lam, who is the Chairperson of the Committee for Safeguarding National Security since 2020, said that her government was only targeting illegal doxing and empowering the privacy commissioners to investigate and conduct operations with the modifications to the privacy law. She said that Hong Kong's privacy commission would be pleased to meet with tech industry officials to address any concerns they may have but that her government was committed to moving forward with the new regulations as quickly as possible.

The planned modifications have also sparked worry among rights groups, and the new amendments are called "broad and vague". Michael Caster, Asia digital programme manager at Article 19, a press freedom group, said: "What we see with these changes is that they clearly fail to meet this three-part test. And in going after tech companies, in going after social media platforms, or hosts of the potentially offending content, what the law proposes to do is to violate a very fundamental norm called intermediary liability principle – which would not hold the hosts of this third-party content accountable for what users might put online".

With the enactment of the Beijing-designed national security law last year, Hong Kong authorities intensified their campaign on opposition and dissent. Over 10,000 individuals have been arrested as a result of the protests, with at least 128, including journalists and politicians, facing additional national security charges.

The Hong Kong government not only rejected international criticism of its crackdown but also later vowed to tighten laws even further. However, Caster predicted a "noticeable split" in how companies reacted to Hong Kong's move, with enterprises focusing on the impact on their access to China's large market. He told Al Jazeera, "What's happening right now is part of a larger campaign orchestrated by China to carve away any of the remaining fundamental freedoms of expression and access to information in Hong Kong and really turn that city from the relatively free society that it was to the authoritarian state model that Beijing prefers".

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