Technology Why Hong Kong's doxxing law alarms Google, Facebook, Twitter
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Hong Kong’s legislature today began debating new legal rules that would criminalize doxxing, the practice of publicly disclosing someone’s private information. While the government has said the rules are meant to protect individuals from having their personal data leaked online, critics say the legislation is so ambiguous in wording and expansive in scope that it undermines the freedom of expression and communication, and may even threaten US tech firms’ presence in Hong Kong.
What is the doxxing law?
The doxxing law is actually(pdf) to existing , which the government argues was not originally designed to address doxxing and hence must be updated.
Hong Kong's Tiananmen museum shuts down amid investigation
HONG KONG (AP) — A Hong Kong museum commemorating China's deadly 1989 crackdown on pro-democracy protests closed Wednesday three days after opening as the ruling Communist Party tries to stamp out the last traces of public discussion of the event. Hong Kong was the last place on Chinese soil where the party's attack on protests centered on Beijing's Tiananmen Square was commemorated with candlelight vigils and other events. But authorities have banned public ceremonies for the second year amid a campaign by Beijing to crush pro-democracy activism in the territory.
The proposed changes would criminalize doxxing, making the offense punishable by up to HK$1 million ($129,000) in fines and five years’ jail time.
It would empowerto launch criminal investigations and prosecute suspected violators, and to demand the handing over of documents and information from anyone linked to a probe. In addition, it would authorize the privacy commissioner to seize and search electronic devices without a court warrant. The government argues these steps are necessary to “streamline” the handling of doxxing cases, as the new powers given to the privacy commissioner means they would not need to refer cases to the police.
Beyond the ability to seize and search materials, it would also allow the privacy commissioner to issue legally binding take-down orders for any doxxing content. The cessation notices can be served to people or service providers regardless of whether they’re physically in Hong Kong or not, and regardless of whether the alleged data disclosure was made in Hong Kong or not. (The disclosure has to involve someone who is a Hong Kong resident or present in Hong Kong at the time the disclosure was made. However, the law also covers family members of the subject who may be harmed by the disclosure, and the law doesn’t specify whether the family member must be present in Hong Kong.)
Apple Daily editors arrested under Hong Kong security law
HONG KONG (AP) — Hong Kong police on Thursday morning arrested the chief editor and four other senior executives of the pro-democracy Apple Daily newspaper under the national security law and were searching its offices, media reported. Apple Daily is known for its strong pro-democracy stance and often criticizes and condemns the Chinese and Hong Kong governments for tightening control over the city. The arrests and police search are the latest moves by Hong Kong authorities in a crackdown on dissent in the semi-autonomous Chinese city, following months of anti-government protests in 2019.
The extraterritoriality is in line with the approach taken under Hong Kong’s national security law,.
Why are critics including Facebook, Google, and Twitter alarmed?
Last month, an industry group representing major tech firms including, , , and (pdf) that the proposed amendments poses a “grave impact on due process and risks for freedom of expression and communication” and could force them to cease offering their services in Hong Kong.
The Singapore-based—which also counts , Apple, Airbnb, and Yahoo among its members—laid out in detail the issues of concern with regards to the bill, and offered various recommendations. Particularly worrying, according to the letter, is the fact that what constitutes doxxing is never explicitly defined in the bill beyond being described as “intrusive to personal data privacy and in effect weaponize personal data.” Given that there is currently no universally accepted definition of doxxing, this poses “problematic ambiguity” could lead to overly broad interpretations that criminalize innocent acts of information sharing, the letter said.
Hong Kong police raid pro-democracy newspaper, arrest 5 execs
Police claim Apple Daily bosses held for collusion with external elements "to endanger national security" as China continues crackdown on dissent. More than 500 officers conducted a dawn operation that authorities said was sparked by articles Apple Daily had published "appealing for sanctions" against Hong Kong and China's leaders.
Already, there is precedent for vague doxxing rules being used to potentially stifle the free flow of information. In October 2019, at the height of the, a court ostensibly aimed at protecting police from doxxing. However, it was so vaguely worded that appeared to ban the publishing of any identifiable photos of police officers without consent, including those taken in a public place, with no exemptions made for the media.
This is a sweeping and shocking change. Throws the scope of the injunction wide open, and now seems all my worst fears of yesterday may indeed be realized. Outrageous overreach.
— Antony Dapiran (@antd)
Another cause for concern is the risks posed to Hong Kong-based employees of the US tech firms. Given the extraterritoriality of the new rules, an alleged doxxing disclosure made on an overseas social media platform would still be subject to take-down orders.
For example, if alleged doxxing content is shared on Facebook, the government could hold Hong Kong-based Facebook employees criminally liable for failing to remove the content in question, even if the content is hosted on overseas servers. The Hong Kong government has already made it clear that itif their company fails to comply with a take-down order. Hong Kong authorities could also block websites that do not remove alleged doxxing content. In effect, this is yet another step towards .
Hong Kong newspaper increases print run after arrests
HONG KONG (AP) — Hong Kong pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily on Friday increased its print run to 500,000 copies as residents showed support for the beleaguered press freedom a day after police arrested five top editors and executives and froze $2.3 million worth of assets on national security charges. The raid on the paper's offices followed by the arrests on Thursday marked the first time the sweeping national security law, which Beijing imposed on Hong Kong last year, was used against the media, one of the symbols of civil liberties in the semi-autonomous city that don't exist elsewhere in China.
In the letter, the companies said that the only way to shield its staff from these risks “would be to refrain from investing and offering their services in Hong Kong.” While an overseas service provider, with no presence or services in Hong Kong, can also receive a cessation notice and be liable for failing to act on the notice, it’s unclear how local authorities would take legal action against such an entity. Whether and how the firms will actually curtail their business presence in Hong Kong remains to be seen.
Lokman Tsui, a free speech and digital rights expert who hasand , wrote in a recent Twitter thread that there are many ways in which a foreign tech firm can be said to be “leaving a market.”
leaving a market can mean
1) the company no longer makes the service available
2) the company relocates its employees
3) the company relocates its servers, data centers
4) a combination of the above
it is important to keep these distinctions in mind. why?
— lokman tsui (@lokmantsui)
While data protection rules are in flux globally, the letter noted that the new search and arrest powers given to the privacy commissioner practically elevate the body into a parallel police force “in a manner that is highly unusual and out of step with international privacy developments.”
Twitter, Facebook, and the Asia Internet Coalition declined to provide additional comments. Quartz has also reached out to Google for comment.
When will the law come into force?
The amendments went through their first and second readings today. It’s unclear when the third and final reading is scheduled for before they’re voted on in a legislature that. As such, the new rules are almost certain to be rushed through as quickly as possible and rubber-stamped, in the same way that new immigration rules were in a move that could empower the government to impose exit bans. The government has indicated as much, that it hopes to secure the bill’s “early passage.”
Tech giants threaten to leave Hong Kong over proposed anti-doxxing law .
Hong Kong defended its proposal, saying doxxing has "tested the limits of morality and the law."Doxxing has been a major problem for Hong Kong since mid-2019, around the same time protests kicked off against proposed changes to local extradition laws. In a statement on Monday, the government said that the massive increase in doxxing "has tested the limits of morality and the law.