Facebook, Twitter, Google threaten to pull out of Hong Kong if new ‘anti-doxing’ data laws passed

Facebook, Twitter, Google threaten to pull out of Hong Kong if new ‘anti-doxing’ data laws passed
AP Photo/Kin Cheung
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Three Big Tech social media giants are threatening to stop providing their services to residents of Hong Kong over China’s newly proposed data laws, which would make the companies liable for the malicious sharing of users’ private details online. 

An industry group representing Facebook, Twitter and Google says that a proposed “anti-doxing” law could put the companies' staff based in the region at risk of criminal charges. The act of “doxing” describes the practice of posting someone’s personal private information on the internet, usually for the purposes of harassment and intimidation.

Fox Business reports that a letter sent by an industry group representing the internet companies expressed concerns that the planned rules to address doxing would put their staff at risk of criminal investigations and prosecutions related to user content. All three companies employ at least 100 staff combined in Hong Kong. 

In May, Hong Kong’s Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Bureau proposed amendments to existing data protection laws that they claim were needed to fight doxing, which happened during the 2019 pro-democracy protests. The proposals call for fines of up to 1 million Hong Kong dollars, or $128,000 USD, and up to five years imprisonment.

"The only way to avoid these sanctions for technology companies would be to refrain from investing and offering the services in Hong Kong,” suggested the letter from the Asia Internet Coalition, which represents the tech giants in the region. 

Fox Business reports:

Jeff Paine, the Asia Internet Coalition's managing director, in the letter to Hong Kong's Privacy Commissioner for Personal Data, said that while his group and its members are opposed to doxing, the vague wording in the proposed amendments could mean the firms and their staff based locally could be subject to criminal investigations and prosecution for doxing offenses by their users.

That would represent a "completely disproportionate and unnecessary response," the letter said. The letter also noted that the proposed amendments could curtail free expression and criminalize even "innocent acts of sharing information online."

The Coalition suggested that a more clearly defined scope to violations be considered and requested a videoconference to discuss the situation.

According to Fox Business, the Hong Kong government has handled thousands of doxing-related cases since 2019 and public surveys show strong support for the creation of laws against the practice. Both police officers and protest leaders were doxed amid the protests. 

The concerns over the proposed law revolve around the fact that the term “doxing” itself is vague and lacks a scope in how it is defined. A broad reading of the term could mean that posting an unflattering personal photo of someone taken in public could be construed as “doxing” and run afoul of the law. 

In the United States, radical leftist groups like Antifa have accused journalists of “doxing” them for reporting on the crimes they commit and posting publicly-available information on their arrests.

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