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Internet Giants Threaten to End Service in Hong Kong over Proposed Data Protection Law

Facebook, Twitter, and Google have reportedly warned the Hong Kong government that they may stop offering their services in the city if Hong Kong authorities proceed with implementing data-protection laws seeking to combat doxing.

A letter sent by an industry group representing the tech giants says that the companies are concerned with planned changes to data-protection laws, as they believe the new rules could make them liable for doxing, according to a report by the Wall Street Journal.

Doxing — a practice that was reportedly common during the 2019 protests in Hong Kong — refers to the online sharing of individuals’ personal information, with the hopes that others will use it for malicious intent.

In May, Hong Kong’s Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Bureau proposed amendments to the city’s data-protection laws, saying that the changes were needed to combat doxing. The new proposals call for fines of up to 1 million Hong Kong dollars — which equates to about $128,800 — and up to five years in prison.

“The only way to avoid these sanctions for technology companies would be to refrain from investing and offering the services in Hong Kong,” read a June 25 letter from the Singapore-based Asia Internet Coalition, obtained by the Wall Street Journal.

A spokeswoman for Hong Kong’s Privacy Commissioner for Personal Data acknowledged that the office had received the letter, but said that new rules were needed to address doxing, adding that the government has dealt with thousands of doxing-related cases since 2019, which included doxed police officers and opposition figures.

“The amendments will not have any bearing on free speech,” the spokeswoman insisted, adding that the government “strongly rebuts any suggestion that the amendments may in any way affect foreign investment in Hong Kong.”

While Beijing wields its expanding power over Hong Kong and clamps down on political dissent, tensions emerge between U.S. tech giants and Hong Kong authorities.

Last year, U.S. firms and other tech companies reportedly said they were suspending processing requests from Hong Kong law-enforcement agencies after the Communist Regime imposed a national security law on the city.

China’s crackdown on political dissent since its national security law last year has reportedly driven many people in Hong Kong off social media, or has caused them to engage in self-censorship following a series of arrests over their comments posted to the internet.

The anti-doxing proposals will be put before Hong Kong’s Legislative Council, and a bill is expected to be approved by the end of this legislative year, reports the Wall Street Journal.

You can follow Alana Mastrangelo on Facebook and Twitter at @ARmastrangelo, and on Instagram.

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