Hong Kong 'Doxxing' Ban Unnecessary, Could Affect City's International Status: Analysts

The government plans to give sweeping, 'police-like' powers to a new privacy regulator, an industry group says.
2021-07-07
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Hong Kong 'Doxxing' Ban Unnecessary, Could Affect City's International Status: Analysts A man walks by a poster showing the Facebook thumbs up logo outside a store in Hong Kong, in file photo.
AFP

Proposed amendments to Hong Kong's privacy laws banning "doxxing" are unnecessary and will likely add to the cost of doing business in the city, industry analysts told RFA.

The city government is tabling amendments to its Personal Data (Privacy) Ordinance that would criminalize the sharing of other people's personal data online.

But an industry group that includes Twitter, Facebook and Google recently wrote to the Hong Kong government with concerns over the use of the vaguely defined term "doxxing" in the planned amendments.

"Given that at present there is no universally accepted or acknowledged definition for 'doxxing', this gives rise to legitimate concerns that 'doxxing; in the proposed amendments could have an overly broad interpretation such that even innocent acts of sharing of information online could be deemed unlawful," the Asian Internet Coalition (AIC) said in a letter to Hong Kong's government.

The lack of a clear definition for "doxxing," which the letter said was described in the amendment as "acts that intrude into personal data privacy," the government would hold huge discretionary power to restrict online content, the AIC warned.

"The scope of any restrictions on content and free expression should be clearly defined so that both intermediaries and users can better understand the aim, impact, and application of these regulations," it said.

"By keeping the scope of the restrictions vague, significant discretionary authority lies with regulators to restrict content," the AIC -- whose members also include Airbnb, Amazon, Apple, Expedia, LinkedIn, LINE, Twitter, and Booking.com -- warned.

"Introducing these amendments would effectively empower an independent statutory authority to a level akin to the Hong Kong Police Force itself, and in a manner that is highly unusual and out of step with international privacy developments," it said.

Superfluous powers

Francis Fong of the Hong Kong Information Technology Federation, said amendments to the privacy law appeared unnecessary, given that the government already holds powers to order the removal of online content under existing legislation.

"Government agencies can already request that social media platforms remove content under obscenity laws, the Copyright Ordinance and libel laws," Fong told RFA.

"Google and Facebook transparency reports also show that these companies  have already been cooperating with the government to some extent."

Simon Lee of the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) business school said the move will likely have an impact on Hong Kong's perceived status as an international financial center.

"We had the [now-shelved] amendments to extradition laws in 2019, changes to company registration and to the Companies Ordinance," Lee said.

"It seems there's a convergence of not-so-positive developments happening in Hong Kong right now," Lee told RFA. "These will all have a considerable impact over the medium-to-long term."

He added: "While everyone understands the need for security, there is also the need to balance security with the freedom to do business in an international city, and an international financial hub."

Lee said the recent forced closure of the pro-democracy Apple Daily newspaper under a draconian national security law imposed by China from July 1, 2020 had also given the international community plenty of cause for concern.

"The possibility of having one's home searched at any point is always there, because it's very hard to gauge the level of risk," he said.

Hong Kong's constitutional and mainland affairs bureau dismissed an earlier report in the Wall Street Journal as "misleading," saying the proposed amendments would likely be submitted to the Legislative Council, which is now devoid of any opposition members, by the end of the legislative year.

Reported by Gigi Lee and Cheng Yut Yiu for RFA's Mandarin and Cantonese Services. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

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