Tech Giants Could Withdraw Services Over Hong Kong Doxxing Bill

Hong Kong’s increasing strict security and data protection laws could force some tech giants to stop providing services in the city.

This is according to an industry group that represents some of the world’s top tech firms. The industry group in question is the Asia Internet Coalition (AIC), a Singapore-based association that includes Facebook, Twitter and Google as members.

The withdraw warning comes after big name tech firms confirmed in July last year they would not give Hong Kong authorities any user data.

Hong Kong clampdown

This came after China forced the passing of a draconian security law in Hong Kong in 2020, which the British government said violated its Joint Declaration agreement between the two countries.

Indeed, such was the worldwide concern at the Chinese move at the time, that the British government confirmed that Hong Kong citizens with a British overseas passport would now be eligible for a route to full British citizenship.

Many countries, including the UK and United States, also widely condemned the Chinese law which they said violates the “one country, two systems” framework agreed when the UK handed back the territory to China in 1997.

The law bans any activity Beijing deems to constitute sedition, secession and subversion, and allows Chinese state security to operate in the territory.

Doxxing law

But now nearly a year after that draconian security law in Hong Kong, the Chinese authorities have tightened their grip on the former British colony, when Chinese authorities recently introduced a bill that seeks to crack down on ‘doxxing’.

The practice refers to the sharing of private information of individuals online, usually to open them up as targets for harassment.

Officials say it can lead to people’s photographs, identity card information and addresses being given out without their consent.

So the law on the surface sounds like it would protect officials in Hong Kong.

But tech firms fear it will have an extreme impact on due process in Hong Kong.

This is because, once in effect, the doxxing law would require the firms to undertake swift compliance with any government takedown requests.

And the ambiguous wording in the text of the bill has also spurred concerns that tech staff could be prosecuted as individuals if they do not comply.

This has been explained in a letter from the Asia Internet Coalition (AIC) to Hong Kong’s privacy commissioner for personal data, Ada Chung Lai-ling.

The letter states the doxxing law could result in big name tech firms retreating from Hong Kong, CNN reported.

Withdrawal warning

In its letter, the AIC reportedly said that it was concerned with several parts of the bill, including a provision that it said suggested the government could prosecute “the local staff of overseas platforms in case of failure to comply with the authorities’ removal requests.”

The bill proposes that “any person who provides services in Hong Kong to Hong Kong residents” can be served a notice directing an online platform to “rectify” what it calls “doxxing content.” It also proposes that the privacy commissioner be able to prosecute failures to comply with those requests.

The legislation, which was introduced in May by Hong Kong’s Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Bureau, also proposes that offenders face a fine of up to 1 million Hong Kong dollars (about $128,700) and imprisonment of up to five years upon conviction.

“If it remains the [government’s] intention to hold the employees of the local subsidiaries or entities liable for doxxing content, we seek clarification on the legal basis of doing so,” the AIC wrote in its letter.

“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,” the letter states. “Thus, the possibility of prosecuting subsidiary employees will create uncertainties for businesses and affect Hong Kong’s development as an innovation and technology hub.”

Facebook, Twitter and Google referred CNN Business to the AIC when asked for comment.

In its statement Monday, the office of the commissioner reportedly confirmed that it would meet with representatives of the coalition soon “to better understand their views.”

Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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