China has taken swift action to censor Hong Kong’s Internet and use feared new national security laws to access user data, but American technology giants have offered some resistance out of concerns about rights.
The online review plan was revealed in a 116-page government document released on Monday night, which also revealed expanded police powers that allowed them to conduct unwarranted raids and surveillance.
Less than a week ago, China implemented a law on the semi-autonomous Hong Kong. It did not disclose any other details except for prohibiting terrorism, subversion, secession and collusion with foreign forces.
Although it is guaranteed that only a few people will be sanctioned by the law, details since then show that this will be the most fundamental change in Hong Kong’s freedom and rights since the British returned Hong Kong to China in 1997.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Monday: “The CCP continues to undermine free Hong Kong.”
Pompeo opposed his view of a series of “Orwellian” actions as censorship of activists, schools and libraries.
Pompeo said: “Until now, Hong Kong has flourished because it allows free thinking and freedom of speech under an independent rule of law. There is no more.”
According to the handover agreement with the British side, Beijing promised to guarantee certain freedoms and autonomy not seen on the dictator mainland until at least 2047.
But fears that China’s ruling Communist Party is steadily eroding these freedoms helped build a powerful democratic movement, leading to large-scale, often violent protests in the past seven months.
China has made no secret of its desire to use the law to suppress democratic movements and intimidate those who want to resist.
Chief Executive Carrie Lam, appointed by Beijing, told reporters: “The Hong Kong government will vigorously enforce this law.”
“And I warn those radicals not to try to violate this law or cross the red line, because the consequences of violating this law are very serious.”
With the rapid withdrawal of pro-democracy books from libraries and schools, the government hinted in the long document released on Monday night that it also wants to fully obey online.
If there are “reasonable reasons” to suspect that the data violates national security laws, the police have the right to control and delete online information.
Internet companies and service providers can be ordered to delete information and confiscate their devices. If they refuse to comply, they will be fined and imprisoned for up to one year.
The two companies are also expected to provide assistance in identity recording and decryption.
Big technical uneasiness
However, the largest American technology companies have provided some resistance.
Facebook, Google and Twitter said on Monday that they shelved the Hong Kong government or police forces’ requests for user information.
The company said in a statement that Facebook and its popular messaging service WhatsApp will continue to refuse requests until it has reviewed the law, which requires “formal human rights due diligence and consultation with human rights experts.”
A Facebook spokesperson said: “We believe that freedom of speech is a basic human right, and we support people to express their rights without worrying about their safety or other influences.”
Twitter and Google told AFP that they will not comply with the information requirements of the Hong Kong authorities in the near future.
When asked by AFP, Twitter said: “Like many public interest organizations, civil society leaders and entities, and industry peers, we are seriously concerned about the development process and full intentions of this law.”
Less than a week after the law was promulgated, democracy activists and many ordinary people have frantically tried to clean up their online data to find out any content that China may consider guilty.
The documents on Monday night also showed that during the national security investigation, judicial supervision, which was previously under the supervision of the Hong Kong police, has been cancelled.
If police officers believe that the threat to national security is an “emergency” threat, they will be able to search without an arrest warrant.
Barrister Anson Wong Yu-yat told the South China Morning Post: “The new regulations are frightening because they give police powers that are usually protected by the judiciary.”
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