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Hong Kong (CNN Business) – Changes to Hong Kong’s data protection laws could force some companies to stop providing services in the city, according to an industry group representing some of the world’s top tech companies.
The prospect of a Hong Kong withdrawal was raised in a letter published this week by the Asia Internet Coalition (AIC), a Singapore-based association with Facebook, Twitter and Google as members.
The memo, which is dated June 25 and was sent by the group to Hong Kong’s privacy commissioner for personal data, Ada Chung Lai-ling, rejects a recently introduced bill that seeks to crack down on ‘doxxing’ .
The practice refers to the sharing of private information of individuals online, generally to target them for harassment.
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The Hong Kong government says this has been a particularly widespread problem since 2019, when the city had massive protests. Authorities say it can lead to people’s photos, identity card information and addresses being released without their consent.
Between June 2019 and May 2021, the Hong Kong Personal Data Privacy Commissioner’s Office handled more than 5,700 ‘doxxing’ related cases. But the number of incidents has decreased since 2019, according to the privacy watchdog. The agency said it received 1,036 ‘doxxing’ complaints in 2020, a 76% drop from the previous year.
In its memorandum, the AIC said it was concerned about various parts of the bill, including a provision that it said suggested the government could prosecute “local staff of platforms abroad in the event of non-compliance with requests for expulsion from the authorities “.
The bill proposes that “anyone who provides services in Hong Kong to Hong Kong residents” can receive a notice directing an online platform to “rectify” what it calls “‘doxxing’ content.” It also proposes that the privacy commissioner can prosecute non-compliance with those requests.
The legislation, which was introduced in May by Hong Kong’s Office of Constitutional and Continental Affairs, also proposes that offenders face a fine of up to HK $ 1 million (about $ 128,700) and a prison sentence of up to five years after his conviction.
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“If it is still the intention [del gobierno] hold employees of subsidiaries or local entities responsible for doxifying the content, we seek clarification on the legal basis for doing so, “the AIC wrote in its document.
“The only way to avoid these sanctions for tech companies would be to refrain from investing and offering their services in Hong Kong, thereby depriving Hong Kong businesses and consumers, while creating new barriers to trade. Hence, the possibility prosecuting employees of subsidiaries will create uncertainties for companies and affect Hong Kong’s development as a hub for innovation and technology. “
Facebook, Twitter and Google referred CNN Business to the AIC when asked for comment.
The coalition emphasized that the letter represented the views of more than 15 members, not a single company. He said it was incorrect to claim that certain companies already had plans to leave Hong Kong and expressed his desire to work with the government on the legislation.
“We wish to emphasize that ‘doxxing’ is a matter of great concern,” the AIC said in its memo, requesting a virtual meeting with Chung. He added that the bill could result in “risks to freedom of expression and communication.”
The Wall Street Journal was the first to report the news of the letter.
Data protection concerns
Hong Kong’s Office of the Personal Data Privacy Commissioner (PCPD) said on Monday that ‘doxxing’ had become “rampant” and “tested the limits of morality and the law.”
The agency also responded to suggestions that the changes would have “some bearing on freedom of expression.”
“The amendments only refer to illegal acts of ‘doxxing’,” he said. “The scope of the crime of ‘doxxing’ will be clearly stated in the amendments.”
The PCPD added that it “strongly refutes any suggestion that the amendments may in any way affect foreign investment in Hong Kong.”
Hong Kong has faced questions about its future as a global business center as the former British colony grapples with a historic political crisis.
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The city has for decades been a critical hub for foreign companies looking to interact with China. While Beijing largely regulates the way foreign companies do business on the mainland, Hong Kong has traditionally offered them the ability to operate without heavy restrictions on investment and other operations.
Unlike mainland China, city residents can also access the Internet more freely, with the use of Western platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and Google.
But in recent months, those companies have expressed reservations about the legislative changes in Hong Kong.
Last July, Facebook, Google and Twitter said they would pause reviewing city government user data requests after the introduction of a Chinese-imposed national security law. The law prohibits any activity that Beijing considers to constitute sedition, secession and subversion, and allows Chinese state security to operate in the territory.
The companies confirmed last month that there had been no change in their position.
The PCPD told CNN Business it was seeking to introduce the anti-‘doxxing ‘bill for consideration by city lawmakers within this legislative session, which ends in October.
Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam acknowledged the latest arrests at a press conference on Tuesday, saying “there is broad support that legislation against ‘doxxing’ should be passed.”
“All laws … will arouse concern,” he said. “If online businesses express concern, I am sure the privacy commissioner will be more than happy to meet with them and hear their concerns.”
In its statement on Monday, the commissioner’s office confirmed that it would soon meet with representatives of the coalition “to better understand their views.”
– Sarah Faidell, Joshua Berlinger, and Simran Vaswani contributed to this report.