Facebook And WhatsApp Will Not Hand Over User Data To Hong Kong Authorities For Now

Any request for user data from the Hong Kong law enforcement authorities will not be processed by Facebook and its messaging service WhatsApp while the company conducts an assessment of the controversial security law passed by the Chinese government and now implemented on the city.

They would “pause” conducting any review of requests for information by the Hong Kong government “pending further assessment of the impact of the National Security Law, including formal human rights due diligence and consultations with human rights experts,” the social media platforms said in statements Monday.

The company believes “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.

Charges of secession, subversion, terrorism, and collusion with foreign powers have been criminalized according to the new law that was imposed last week. Critics of the law say that it is a sweeping change and describe it as a direct assault on freedoms of speech and the press that have existed for a long time in Hong Kong unlike in the Chinese mainland.

The power of security officials to investigate, prosecute and punish both foreign nationals and Hong Kong citizens for anything that they should deem to be promoting secession or subversion of the government, such as ‘inciting hatred’ against the central Chinese authority,m has been granted under the new law which many experts have said has terms that are defined very vaguely and therefore open to multiple understandings.

This law is a major change for formally autonomous Hong Kong city form the “one country, two systems” principle that was promised by China to be maintained in the city for 50 years when the city was handed over to China by the United Kingdom in 1997.

Unlike in mainland China, there is no government censorship on the internet in Hong Kong. The residents of the city, also known as the financial hum of Asia, have access to social media platforms such as Facebook, WhatsApp and Google. All of these are banned in mainland China.

While claiming that freedom of speech and the press still very much exist in the city, Hong Kong authorities have said that under the new law, sedition charges can be placed against anyone who simply displays the popular slogan “liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our times”.

Beijing has been very swift in implementing the new law in Hong Kong. The first person to be prosecuted under the legislation was denied bail after appearing in court on Monday.

Information requests from law enforcement authorities that are in accordance to their terms of service and only when such requests are also deemed by them to be in line with international human rights standards do they comply with such requests, Facebook and WhatsApp said.

It received 241 information requests on 257 users or accounts from Hong Kong authorities, Facebook said in its transparency report for July to December of 2019. 46% of those requests resulted in “some data produced”, Facebook said.

(Adapted from CNN.com)

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