July 5 (UPI) — An Asian industry association of leading Internet and technology companies including Google, Twitter and Facebook warned the government of Hong Kong that they may pull their services if it implements changes to its privacy laws that could silence freedom of expression and open them up to criminal liability.
The Asia Internet Coalition sent a letter dated June 25 to the Office of the Privacy Commissioner for Personal Data concerning proposed amendments to Hong Kong’s Personal Data (Privacy) Ordinance that aims to combat doxxing, the act of publicly revealing someone’s private data online.
In the letter, the association said the law was too vague and broad “that even innocent acts of sharing information online could be deemed unlawful under the PDPO.”
The amendments to the law were introduced on March 11 to criminalize the act of publishing someone’s personal information online without consent to cause them “psychological harm” with a fine of $128,000 and a maximum of five years in prison.
The new law could also open the the companies and its employees to criminal investigations based on the posts of their platforms’ users.
Doxxing has been a target of the city’s chief executive, Carrie Lam, as its use grew in prevalence during the pro-democracy protests that rocked Hong Kong in 2019.
According to government documents, by Jan 10, 2020, the Office of the Privacy Commissioner for Personal Data had received 4,400 doxxing complaints involving 17 online social media platforms with police officers and their families accounting for 36% of those doxxed.
The companies said in the six-page letter that these amendments would “likely result in grave impact on due process and risks for freedom of expression and communication.”
They also said opening the platforms to criminal liability is “unnecessary and excessive” as they have no control over what their users post.
“The only way to avoid these sanctions for technology companies would be to refrain from investing and offering their services in Hong Kong, thereby depriving Hong Kong businesses and consumers, whilst also creating new barriers to trade,” the coalition said.
The amendments are a continuation of a tightening of freedoms and free speech on the former British colony since the protests of 2019.
Last year, Beijing imposed a draconian national security law upon Hong Kong that attracted the condemnation of Western nations.
In March, China approved a resolution to overhaul Hong Kong’s electoral system to allow only so-called patriots to hold office.