security

Hong Kong: All the tech firms pausing activity after China’s security law – City A.M.


A host of tech giants have said they will be pausing the processing of requests by authorities in Hong Kong to review user data, following a strict new security law passed by China last week.

China’s parliament has approved the national security law in Hong Kong, which pushes the city state towards a more authoritarian approach to monitoring its citizens and internet censorship.

Previously Hong Kong enjoyed relatively liberal internet freedoms, retaining access to platforms such as Google, Twitter and Facebook while those sites are blocked in mainland China.

Hong Kong officials have said the new law will strengthen police powers over the internet, including the ability to ask publishers to remove content deemed a threat to national security, restrict users’ access to platforms and comply with decryption requests.

Those who do not go along with the rules could face a fine or jail terms.

The move by China has sent the tech community into disarray as major companies rush to understand how they can operate in Hong Kong while refraining from heavily censoring their users.

Here’s a list of all the tech giants so far to have said they’re suspending reviews or full cooperation with authorities until they know more:

Apple

Apple has said it does not currently receive requests for user content directly from the Hong Kong government.

Instead, it requires authorities there to submit requests under a mutual US-Hong Kong legal assistance treaty. The US Department of Justice receives the requests and reviews them for “legal conformance,” Apple said.

“We’re assessing the new law, which went into effect less than a week ago, and we have not received any content requests since the law went into effect,” Apple said in a statement this week.

Google

Google said it suspended reviewing data requests from law enforcement immediately after the law went into effect last week.

However it said it would continue reviewing Hong Kong government requests for removals of user-generated content from its services.

A Google spokesperson added that it would “continue to review the details of the new law”.

Facebook

A spokesperson for Facebook has said it intends to suspend review requests from law enforcement in Hong Kong, saying in a statement: “We believe freedom of expression is a fundamental human right and support the right of people to express themselves without fear for their safety or other repercussions.”

Meanwhile encrypted messaging service Whatsapp, which is owned by Facebook, said it would be pausing requests “pending further assessment of the impact of the National Security Law, including formal human rights due diligence and consultations with human rights experts”.

Read more: Whatsapp and Telegram suspend user data review requests from Hong Kong authorities

Instagram will also be affected by the company’s policy change.

Twitter

Twitter will be suspending requests to review data from law enforcement in Hong Kong, saying it has “grave concerns regarding both the developing process and the full intention of this law”.

“Given the rapid pace at which the new national security law in China has been passed and that it was only published in its entirety for the first time last week, our teams are reviewing the law to assess its implications, particularly as some of the terms of the law are vague and without clear definition,” a spokesperson said.

“Twitter cares and is committed to protecting the people using our service and their freedom of expression. We have a strong track record in the region of safeguarding the experience of people who use our service where it is freely available to them.”

Zoom

A Zoom spokesperson said the company would be pausing all data requests in Hong Kong until more is understood about the legislation, and the approach from the US government.

Read more: Zoom and Linkedin join tech giants in pausing requests from Hong Kong

A spokesperson said in a statement: “Zoom supports the free and open exchange of thoughts and ideas. We are proud to facilitate meaningful conversations and professional collaboration around the world.

“We’re actively monitoring the developments in Hong Kong SAR, including any potential guidance from the US government. We have paused processing any data requests from, and related to, Hong Kong SAR.”

Linkedin

Linkedin has said it has paused reviewing requests from law enforcement while it reviews the new legislation.

The careers social network’s owner, Microsoft, has not announced any change in company policy yet. However it has complied with authorities’ requests for data in Hong Kong before.

A Linkedin spokesperson said: “We are reviewing the new law, and we are pausing our responses to local law enforcement requests in Hong Kong as we conduct our review.”

Tiktok

Tiktok is to remove its app from Hong Kong entirely, exiting the market.

The short-form video app, which is owned by Chinese giant Bytedance, said it had made the decision to exit the region following the new security laws.

“In light of recent events, we’ve decided to stop operations of the Tiktok app in Hong Kong,” a Tiktok spokesman said.

Read more: Tiktok exits Hong Kong as US ponders banning the app

Telegram

Telegram said in a statement this week that it doesn’t intend to process “any data requests related to its Hong Kong users until an international consensus is reached in relation to the ongoing political changes in the city”.

It added that it has never shared data with law enforcement in Hong Kong.

Signal

Encrypted messaging app Signal said it has seen a surge in sign-ups by Hong Kong residents in recent days, as users seek to avoid increased scrutiny from authorities.

“We’d announce that we’re stopping too, but we never started turning over user data to HK police. Also, we don’t have user data to turn over,” Signal said on Twitter. 



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