HONG KONG — Facebook Inc., Twitter Inc., and Alphabet Inc.’s Google have privately warned the Hong Kong government that they could stop offering their services in the city if authorities proceed with planned changes to data-protection laws that could make them liable for the malicious sharing of individuals’ information online.
A letter sent by an industry group that includes the internet firms said companies are concerned that the planned rules to address doxing could put their staff at risk of criminal investigations or prosecutions related to what the firms’ users post online. Doxing refers to the practice of putting people’s personal information online so they can be harassed by others.
Hong Kong’s Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Bureau in May proposed amendments to the city’s data-protection laws that it said were needed to combat doxing, a practice that was prevalent during 2109 protests in the city. The proposals call for punishments of up to 1 million Hong Kong dollars, the equivalent of about $128,800, and up to five years’ imprisonment.
“The only way to avoid these sanctions for technology companies would be to refrain from investing and offering the services in Hong Kong,” said the previously unreported June 25 letter from the Singapore-based Asia Internet Coalition, which was reviewed by The Wall Street Journal.
Tensions have emerged between some of the U.S.’s most powerful firms and Hong Kong authorities as Beijing exerts increasing control over the city and clamps down on political dissent. The American firms and other tech companies last year said they were suspending the processing of requests from Hong Kong law-enforcement agencies following China’s imposition of a national security law on the city.
Jeff Paine, the Asia Internet Coalition’s managing director, in the letter to Hong Kong’s Privacy Commissioner for Personal Data, said that while his group and its members are opposed to doxing, the vague wording in the proposed amendments could mean the firms and their staff based locally could be subject to criminal investigations and prosecution for doxing offenses by their users.
That would represent a “completely disproportionate and unnecessary response,” the letter said. The letter also noted that the proposed amendments could curtail free expression and criminalize even “innocent acts of sharing information online.”
The Coalition suggested that a more clearly defined scope to violations be considered and requested a videoconference to discuss the situation.
A spokeswoman for the Privacy Commissioner for Personal Data acknowledged that the office had received the letter. She said new rules were needed to address doxing, which “has tested the limits of morality and the law.”…Read more>>