The Hong Kong government has defended its proposed anti-doxxing rules after an industry group that includes Google, Facebook, and Twitter warned that they could curtail free speech and drive global tech companies out of the city.
The Asia Internet Coalition, which also has Apple and LinkedIn as its members, said in a recent letter to Hong Kong authorities that companies are worried an amended privacy law could put their staff at risk of criminal investigations over what users post online.
The Hong Kong government proposed to amend the city’s privacy law in May to make it a criminal offence if one posts another person’s information online without their consent and causes psychological harm to the person or their family members. Violators could be punished with up to five years’ imprisonment and a maximum fine of HK$1 million ($129,000).
The new rules will also empower officials to ask internet companies to remove “doxxing” content. Failure to comply with the request could result in up to two years’ imprisonment, according to the proposal.
The letter from AIC, which was first reported by the Wall Street Journal on Monday, warned that the vague wording means the new rules could curtail free expression and criminalize “innocent acts.”
“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 June 25 letter was quoted as saying.
Hong Kong officials have said the proposed rules would crack down on the doxxing acts that became rampant during the 2019 protest movement.
The pro-democracy protests have fueled discontent toward the city’s police force and led to officers’ personal information, such as home addresses, mobile numbers, and their children’s school names, being shared online. The details of anti-government protesters were also posted online by those who opposed the movement.
Hong Kong’s Office of the Privacy Commissioner for Personal Data (PCPD), which will be carrying out the anti-doxxing investigations, confirmed it had received the letter on Monday, but denied the new rules would be a threat to free speech.
“The PCPD strongly rebuts any suggestion that the Amendments may in any way affect foreign investment in Hong Kong,” it said in an online response, adding it will meet with representatives of the AIC to understand the companies’ views.
Hong Kong’s governor Carrie Lam also said on Tuesday that the law was necessary to combat doxxing, and government officials were willing to provide more explanations to address concerns.
The former British colony was promised with civil liberties unavailable in mainland China when it was handed over to Chinese rule in 1997. Hong Kongers have been able to access websites and internet platforms that are blocked by China’s Great Firewall.
However, worries that Beijing’s strict censorship regime would be extended to Hong Kong have risen since authorities started cracking down on the pro-democracy movement with a Beijing-imposed national security law.
The law has led to the detention of the bulk of protest leaders and the shutdown of the city’s most popular pro-democracy newspaper. In January, police cited the law to block access to a website publicizing details of police officers.
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