The Hong Kong government will gain powers to limit local access to the world’s largest technology platforms under legislation to punish the “doxing” crimes expected to be passed this year.
The measures are the government’s latest effort to assert greater control over civil liberties in the territory following pro-democracy protests in 2019, when government critics and supporters are engaged in doxing publishing online the personal information of police officers, legislators, journalists and protesters.
But the anti-doxing bill, 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 persecution. Critics have said it could also be used to limit freedom of expression.
The amendment, introduced in the city pro-government legislature on Monday, it came days after the Biden administration issued a strong warning about the risks to American companies operating in Chinese territory and a year after Beijing imposed a national security law.
Authorities have introduced other restrictions on information in recent months, such as limiting access to data on the company register and censoring films considered to threaten national security.
On Thursday, police arrested five members of Hong Kong’s speech therapist union on suspicion of conspiracy to publish and distribute books for seditious children.
The group had published illustrated books with sheep fighting against wolves as authorities told them the ideas and scenes of the protests.
Hong Kong’s pro-democracy Apple Daily newspaper, which was often critical of the government, recently closed under political pressure. On Wednesday, police arrested several senior editors who worked for the tabloid, including former editor-in-chief Lam Man-chung.
Under the amendment of the privacy law, Hong Kong could order platforms like Facebook, Google and Twitter to remove content classified as doxing and block local access to the platform if the company did not comply.
Employees of technology companies located or entering Chinese territory could also face imprisonment for failing to release 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. “Punishments are among the toughest in the world for doxing.”
Employees who fail to leave the material could face two years in prison and a fine of HK $ 100,000 ($ 12,865). Individuals found guilty of doxing could face up to five years in prison and fines of Hm $ 1m.
Proponents of the legislation have argued that harsh rules are needed curb the abuse of personal information.
“In view of the severe damage caused by doxing to victims such as the police and their families, there must be heavy penalties,” Holden Chow, a pro-Beijing lawmaker in the city, told the Financial Times.
However, the Asia Internet Coalition, a lobbying consortium representing American Internet companies such as Facebook, Google and Twitter, warned last month that legislation could force technology groups to stop providing services in Hong Kong because of the increased risks to their staff. The AIC added that none of its members plan to leave the city.
Erick Tsang, Hong Kong’s secretary of state for constitutional and mainland affairs, tried to reassure technology companies on Monday. “If the employees of these companies in Hong Kong are solely responsible for general marketing or administrative work, and have no authority to act on the ‘doxing’ content, they should not worry too much about legal responsibilities,” he said. he said. .
The AIC said the proposed laws were too vague, since they did not explicitly define the doxing or “psychological harm” caused by this that would be used as evidence for the accusation.
The presence of large social platforms and search engines in Hong Kong supports the city attractive to international companies compared to mainland China, where access to information is restricted in a system called the “Great Firewall”.
Media companies could also err on the side of legislation. Haswell, the lawyer, warned that it was unclear whether even posting a photo of a person without his consent could count as doxing.
However, proponents of the bill said normal information on the news was covered by existing exemptions.
The head of a U.S. law firm in Hong Kong said international business groups have called for new risk assessments in light of anti-doxing legislation and the Biden administration’s advice.
“There is more urgency to communicate the potential impacts of this issue back to the seat than I have seen before,” the lawyer said.
More reports from Mercedes Ruehl in Singapore