Sunday, July 19, 2020

Technology Giants Suspend the Processing of the Hong Kong Government's Request for User Data

Google, Facebook, and Twitter announced they are evaluating China's new national security law for the city. We're witnessing major American tech companies question the Chinese policy - an extremely rare occurrence. The national security law was put in place to help suppress the anti-government demonstrations that have been on the rise in Hong Kong for more than a year.

The tech giants mentioned above have temporarily stopped processing the Hong Kong government requests for user data. The new national security law in Hong Kong has already been used to arrest citizens who have requested Hong Kong's independence. Is this a human rights violation? Facebook has said its review of the new law would rely heavily on human rights considerations. This is one of the few times in recent history major American internet giants are questioning Chinese policy.

What about Chinese-born companies? TikTok, owned by the Chinese internet giant, ByteDance, announced they would withdraw the TikTok app from Hong Kong stores. Within a few days, the app will be unusable.

The New Laws:

What exactly are the new national security rules in Hong Kong? The new law permits the police force to take down internet posts that they feel threaten national security and prosecute companies who don't comply with data requests. If the organization refuses to comply with user data requests, it could result in jail time for the employees and a significant fine for the company. These new rules will force some companies to choose between releasing data or facing six months of jail time for an employee. According to the HK government, if a company refuses to turn over user data in national security cases, it could be fined around $13,000. If someone is ordered to remove a post and they deny, that could lead to a one-year jail sentence.

Google, Facebook, and Twitter did not say whether they would eventually decide to cooperate with parts of the law, but they have temporarily stopped fielding government requests. Their final decisions will likely change the future of internet freedom in Hong Kong. Many HK citizens fear the city will succumb to the ultra tight-knit internet laws that suffocate others in China where Facebook, Twitter, and Google are currently blocked. Thus far, the web hasn't been so tightly censored in Hong Kong, and needless to say, residents want to keep it that way.  

Is There a Safer Way to Communicate?

Groups of people in Hong Kong are seeking ways to go around the city's internet blockades. Some have deleted posts in fear of being prosecuted, and some are downloading encrypted messaging platforms. Trustwire is an end-to-end encrypted file sharing platform. Only the rightful owner and receiver can access the shared data.

While there's still no saying what the HK government will do next, we'll have to wait and see what the American tech giants decide.

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