Growing concerns over the new and controversial national security law imposed on Hong Kong by China has forced a number of virtual private network (VPN) providers of the United States and Canada to shut down their servers in the city.
VPNs are used by internet users to conceal and protect their privacy while avoiding any form of internet censorship, thereby allowing them to be connected to servers across the world.
After China implemented a new security law in the special administrative region of Hong Kong last month, a decision to disable their Hong Kong servers was made by the US.-based IPVanish and Private Internet Access.
The newly imposed national security law by Beijing a life sentence in prison can be awarded to anyone who is found to be guilty of secession or subversion. It also grants power to law enforcement to sometimes search electronic devices without a warrant, under the security law.
According to critics, the autonomy that Hong Kong was promised by China when it was returned to Chinese rule in 1997 by Britain is completely undermined by the new national security law. Certain rights that are not applicable to people in mainland China, such as freedom of speech, is granted to citizens of Hong Kong by the Basic Law of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China.
On the other hand what has worried technology companies are some provisions of the new law that gives the power to law enforcement authorities to police and censure online content, which could include forcing deletion of content that falls foul of the legislation by tech platforms and internet service providers.
In response to the new legislation, pausing of handling requests for user data from Hong Kong authorities has been announced by already by a number of major US tech companies including Google and Facebook.
While making that announcement, Facebook had said that “freedom of expression is a fundamental human right” and that the company will “support the right of people to express themselves without fear for their safety or other repercussions.”
Internet content is actively and regularly censored in mainland China. And companies are compelled to hand over data to Chinese authorities if requested for soc called “intelligence work,” under two other legislations earlier by China – the 2017 National Intelligence Law and the 2014 Counter-Espionage Law.
There is a fear among VPN providers that such censorship and binding nature of handing over data to Chinese authorities could also be implemented in Hong Kong.
In order to protect “the freedoms of users in Hong Kong”, it had decommissioned its Hong Kong VPN servers and suspended operations there, US-based IPVanish said in a blog post.
“The new law also places the region, once a stronghold of online freedom, behind the same tight internet restrictions that govern mainland China,” IPVanish said. “With this legislative change, we, unfortunately, have to consider Hong Kong and China as one.”
It will be “wiping and shutting down” its Hong Kong servers “because new national security laws in the region endanger the privacy of our users and all Hong Kong residents”, said Denver, Colorado, based Private Internet Access earlier this week.
Similar decision to disable its servers in Hong Kong was announced by Toronto, Canada-based TunnelBear on Monday. The national security law has “led to widespread worry that this new law will hurt freedom of expression in Hong Kong,” the VPN provider said.
(Adapted from CNBC.com)