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Big tech threatens to quit Hong Kong over vague privacy laws

An internet coalition including Facebook, Google, Apple, Twitter, and Amazon could be about to halt its services in Hong Kong if a proposed anti-doxxing law is to go ahead.

Big tech is getting serious about free expression, and an entire region now faces the possibility of being unfriended.

A Singapore-based internet group comprised of some of the world’s biggest tech companies including Facebook, Google, Apple, Twitter, and Amazon has warned that such services may soon go offline throughout Hong Kong if a concerning law is passed.

The new bill being proposed would see individuals involved in doxxing – the process of releasing classified information about an individual or organisation – hit with ‘severe sanctions,’ some of which could be levelled at the employees of these tech meccas.

Beijing has tightened its grip on the province of Hong Kong for years, but after pro-democracy protests in 2019 sparked a wave of doxxing directed at both parties, police, journalists, and activists – in some cases leading to the targeting of home addresses and schools – the capital’s focus has shifted to online data control across the nation.

Credit: Unsplash

According to reports, anyone deemed guilty of doxxing will face up to five years in prison and fines of $128,800. When it comes to what actually constitutes an illegal offence and who is criminally liable, however, details are sparse at best.

This is where red flags come in for big tech sites, especially those in the social media space. In theory, the law would allow for the second-hand punishment of company staff for the so called offences of users. With each platform having millions of posts to moderate each day, you can see how this could quickly become a legislative mess.

Acknowledging the ‘serious’ nature of doxxing, the internet group labelled proposals to limit online communications as ‘overboard and ambiguous.’ It then bemoaned plans to hold company staff responsible for content they ‘have no control over’ as ‘completely disproportionate and unnecessary.’

Ultimately, the message sent to the protection commissioner for personal data, Ada Chung Lai-ling, laid down a warning that ‘the only way to avoid these sanctions for technology companies would be to refrain from investing and offering the services in Hong Kong.’

Bearing in mind that there’s no universally accepted definition for doxxing, tech companies are becoming wary of ulterior motives at play with these law changes.

Trust between the west and Hong Kong was already frayed after the introduction of a draconian ‘security law’ in 2020, which saw many social media platforms ban requests for user data from the Hong Kong authorities altogether. A year on, the law is still internationally condemned.

China argues the latest crackdown on dissent is another attempt to unite the country, but critics are concerned this is a thinly veiled attack on self-expression and human rights. You may remember the inexplicable closure of Hong Kong’s leading pro-democracy newspaper, Apple Daily, and the onslaught of arrests that followed.

With such a questionable track record in recent years, the Hong Kong government will have its work cut out convincing tech companies to willingly embrace these changes.

A revised bill is being submitted as early as this month, so we’ll find out soon enough.

 

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