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Google, Facebook, Twitter threaten to leave if Hong Kong goes ahead with new privacy law

Carrie Lam said that authorities are willing to talk with representatives of big tech

Experts say the solution lies in developing ethical principles regarding the analysis and use of data | AFP Representational image | AFP

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam brushed off a warning by tech companies like Google, Facebook and Twitter that they might end operations in the city if authorities go ahead with new privacy law.

In May, Hong Kong's government announced plans to change data privacy laws after names of several police officials and court officers, who helped to crack down on protests online or worked on cases in which activists were persecuted amid the pro-democracy 2019 protests, were revealed via doxing (illegally searching for and publishing information about individuals). Information on journalists and protesters were also published without consent.

The proposed changes would give authorities the power to force social media companies and websites to remove personal information from their platforms.

If found violating the law, the companies could be fined up to $128,731 and be jailed for a year.

Concerns of the big tech companies were made known by a letter to the Hong Kong government. The letter was sent out by Asia Internet Coalition (AIC) - which counts Facebook, Google, Twitter and Apple among its members. “Introducing sanctions aimed at individuals is not aligned with global norms and trends,” the letter said, adding that any anti-doxing legislation “must be built upon principles of necessity and proportionality”, the letter said.

The group warned, “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,” an AFP report reads.

Lam likened the amendments to new data privacy law to the national security law imposed on Hong Kong by Beijing in June 2020 to clamp down dissent that stemmed out of huge democracy protests in 2019. Lam also said that the city’s privacy commission is open to discuss the issues with representatives of the tech industry while maintaining that the government was keen to fast-track passage of the new legislation.


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