US tech giants halt Hong Kong police help

Facebook and Twitter have confirmed they have suspended processing demands for user data from Hong Kong authorities following the introduction of a new Beijing-imposed national security law.

A spokesperson for Facebook told TechCrunch it will “pause” the processing of data demands until it can better understand the new national security law, “including formal human rights due diligence and consultations with human rights experts.” The spokesperson added: “We believe freedom of expression is a fundamental human right and support the right of people to express themselves without fear for their safety or other repercussions.”

Facebook said its suspension will also apply to WhatsApp, which it owns.

News of the suspension was first reported by The Wall Street Journal.

Soon after, Twitter also confirmed it followed suit. “Given the rapid pace at which the new National Security Law in China has been passed and that it was only published in its entirety for the first time last week, our teams are reviewing the law to assess its implications, particularly as some of the terms of the law are vague and without clear definition,” said a Twitter spokesperson.

“Like many public interest organizations, civil society leaders and entities, and industry peers, we have grave concerns regarding both the developing process and the full intention of this law,” the spokesperson said.

Twitter said it suspended transfers of user data subject to Hong Kong demands immediately after the law went into effect.

Messaging app Telegram also reportedly said Monday that it will no longer process data requests from Hong Kong authorities.

Tech giants have long seen Hong Kong as a friendly outpost in Asia as a semi-independent city nation state, albeit under the control of Beijing under its “one country, two systems” principles. Hong Kong has far greater freedoms from mainland China, where government surveillance and censorship are widespread.

But the new national security law, imposed unilaterally by the Chinese government on June 30, effectively undermines any protections Hong Kong nationals had. The law removes provisions for authorities to require a court order before it can demand data from internet companies, like Facebook and Twitter.

One industry leader, who chairs the Hong Kong Internet Service Providers Association, said internet providers would have little choice but to comply with the new law.

The move is likely to put Silicon Valley tech giants — and other companies that follow in their footsteps — on notice with Beijing, which already has sweeping bans against some Western tech giants, including both Facebook and Twitter, on the mainland. WhatsApp is highly popular in Hong Kong, alongside Telegram and WeChat.

Updated with comment from Twitter.

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