The Hong Kong government will be given powers to restrict local access to the world’s largest technology platforms under legislation to sanction “doxing” crimes expected to be passed this year.
The measures are the government’s latest attempt to gain more control over civil liberties in the territory after pro-democracy protests in 2019, when critics and supporters of the government busy with doxing by publishing the personal information of police officers, lawmakers, journalists and protesters online.
But the anti-doxing law, which will change Hong Kong’s privacy laws, has been criticized for being too broad, leaving internet service providers and citizens vulnerable to arbitrary accusations and unfair prosecution. Critics said it could also be used to restrict free speech.
The change, introduced in the city pro-government legislator on Monday, came days after Biden’s government gave a stark warning on the risks to US companies operating on Chinese territory and a year after Beijing passed a sweeping national security law.
Authorities have introduced other restrictions on information in recent months, such as restricting access to: data in the company register and censoring films deemed to pose a threat to national security.
Hong Kong’s pro-democracy Apple Daily newspaper, which has recently often criticized the government, closed under political pressure. Police on Wednesday arrested more senior editors who worked for the tabloid magazine, including former editor-in-chief Lam Man-chung.
Under the privacy law amendment, Hong Kong can instruct platforms such as Facebook, Google and Twitter to remove content classified as doxing and block local access to the platform if the company does not follow the rules.
Employees of the tech companies based in or entering Chinese territory could also face jail time for failing to remove such material under the vast powers that will be granted to the city’s privacy commissioner.
“This makes me nervous,” said Paul Haswell, a technology partner at Pinsent Masons in Hong Kong. “The penalties are among the harshest in the world for doxing.”
Workers who fail to remove material face two years in prison and a fine of HK$100,000 (12,865). Individuals found guilty of doxing could face five years in prison and a HK$1 million fine.
Proponents of the legislation have argued that strict rules are needed to: curb the misuse of personal information.
“Given the serious damage done by doxing to victims such as police and their families, there should be severe penalties,” Holden Chow, a pro-Beijing lawmaker in the city, told the Financial Times.
The Asia Internet Coalition, a lobbying consortium representing US Internet companies such as Facebook, Google and Twitter, warned last month that legislation could force tech groups to stop providing services in Hong Kong due to the heightened risks to their staff. The AIC has since added that none of their members planned to leave the city.
Erick Tsang, Hong Kong’s secretary for constitutional affairs and the mainland, tried to reassure tech companies on Monday. “If the employees of these Hong Kong companies are only responsible for general marketing or administrative work, and they don’t have the authority to act against ‘doxing’ content, they don’t have to worry too much about the legalities. obligations,” he said. .
The AIC said the planned laws were too vague because they did not explicitly define doxing or the “psychological harm” it caused and would be used as a test for prosecution.
The presence of major social media platforms and search engines in Hong Kong supports the attractiveness for international companies compared to mainland China, where access to information is restricted in a system called the “Great Firewall”.
Media companies can also break the law. Haswell, the attorney, warned that it was not clear whether even posting a photo of a person without their permission could count as doxing.
However, supporters of the bill said normal reporting was covered by existing exemptions.
The head of a US law firm in Hong Kong said international business groups had requested new risk assessments in light of antidoxing legislation and the Biden administration’s notification.
“There is more urgency to communicate the potential impact of this matter back to headquarters than I have seen before,” the lawyer said.
Additional reporting by Mercedes Ruehl in Singapore