Hong Kong to debate doxxing law that alarms tech companies

An anti-doxxing law being discussed by Hong Kong lawmakers is cause for concern for tech giants there, who say it could hurt their ability to provide services. — AFP

Hong Kong lawmakers are set to debate legal changes giving the government greater power to punish so-called doxxing offences that a coalition of large tech companies says could hurt their ability to provide services.

The legal amendments being discussed in the Legislative Council Wednesday would create two types of offences. The most serious, which involves a data disclosure that harms an individual or their relative, is punishable by five years in prison and a fine of HK$1mil (RM545,800). The other offence is for the release of someone’s data without their consent, and it allows for two years in jail and a fine of HK$100,000 (RM54,580)

The formal introduction of the anti-doxxing amendments is likely to heighten concern that the government of the Asian financial hub is reining in voices of dissent. Beijing unveiled changes to the election system earlier this year that ensured only loyalists can govern Hong Kong, and in 2020 imposed a national security law that has been used to arrest at least 132 people, according to police data, roughly three-quarters for incidents related to speech.

Those moves followed historic and sometimes violent protests that shook Hong Kong in 2019.

The government of the former British colony has made a series of moves that bring it closer to the type of censorship seen on the mainland, where foreign social media and Internet search services are blocked, and news organisations and filmmakers face tight restrictions. This has raised concern that Internet services in Hong Kong will eventually face similar restrictions.

Authorities have moved to restrict access to public information, including the Companies Registry, and have launched an overhaul of public broadcaster Radio Television Hong Kong, which has seen hard-hitting shows cancelled.

The pro-democracy Apple Daily newspaper, long known for reporting on the unethical practices of officials, recently closed under government pressure. The financial hub has also said it would ban films seen as endorsing activities that contravene the security law.

Late last month, the Asia Internet Coalition, an industry group representing companies like Facebook Inc, Alphabet Inc’s Google and Twitter Inc, detailed a set of objections to the new rules – prompting Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam to dismiss the concerns.

Among the key issues raised by the group was the absence of a concrete definition of doxxing, which is commonly understood as the disclosure of someone’s personal information against their wishes.

It also expressed concern about the broad investigative powers the changes would grant to Hong Kong’s privacy commissioner, and the liability for intermediary services such as Facebook and Twitter who may find themselves sanctioned for user content.

Despite these concerns, no member of the AIC is seeking to pull out of Hong Kong, the coalition said in a separate email.

Representatives for Facebook, Twitter and Google declined to comment.

Lam likened the worry over the amendments to the earlier concern over the security law, saying: “only through the implementation of a regulation will we know how effective it is.”

Privacy Commissioner Ada Chung said on a Radio Television Hong Kong programme on Friday that websites could be blocked if they didn’t remove content related to doxxing, but said that move would be a last resort.

The first and second readings of the legal amendment are scheduled for Wednesday. Bills in Hong Kong are passed after the third reading, though it is unclear when that will happen. The government said in a statement on July 14 that it is supporting lawmakers “in scrutinising the Bill to strive for its early passage”.

Hong Kong opposition lawmakers resigned en masse last year to protest Beijing’s political crackdown, leaving the Legislative Council filled with government supporters who can easily pass any piece of legislation. – Bloomberg

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