China has unveiled new powers to censor Hong Kong’s Internet and access user data using its feared national security law — but U.S. tech giants have put up some resistance citing rights concerns.
The online censorship plans were contained in a 116-page government document released on Monday night that also revealed expanded powers for police, allowing warrantless raids and surveillance for some national security investigations.
The city’s Chief Executive — a pro-Beijing appointee — will have final approval on all applications for interception of communications and covert surveillance operations to do with national security cases. Less intrusive surveillance can be approved by senior police officers.
China imposed the law on semi-autonomous Hong Kong a week ago, targeting subversion, secession, terrorism and colluding with foreign forces — its wording kept secret until the moment it was enacted.
Despite assurances that only a small number of people would be targeted by the law, the new details show it is the most radical change in Hong Kong’s freedoms and rights since Britain handed the city back to China in 1997.
“The Hong Kong government will vigorously implement this law,” Chief Executive Carrie Lam, the city’s Beijing-appointed leader, told reporters on Tuesday.
“And I forewarn those radicals not to attempt to violate this law, or cross the red line, because the consequences of breaching this law are very serious.”
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo spoke out against “Orwellian” moves to censor activists, schools and libraries since the law was enacted. “Until now, Hong Kong flourished because it allowed free thinking and free speech, under an independent rule of law. No more,” Mr. Pompeo said.
With pro-democracy books quickly pulled out of libraries and schools, the government signalled in the document that it would also expect obedience online.
Police were granted powers to control and remove online information if there were “reasonable grounds” to suspect the data breaches the national security law.
Internet firms and service providers can be ordered to remove the information and their equipment can be seized. Executives can also be hit with fines and up to one year in jail if they refuse to comply. The companies are also expected to provide identification records and decryption assistance.
Big tech resistance
However, the biggest American tech companies offered some resistance. Facebook, Google and Twitter said on Monday they had put a hold on requests by Hong Kong’s government or police force for information on users.
Facebook and its popular messaging service WhatsApp would deny requests until it had conducted a review of the law that entailed “formal human rights due diligence and consultations with human rights experts,” the company said in a statement.
Twitter and Google told AFP that they too would not comply with information requests.