Experts say a controversial Hong Kong anti-online doxxing law that took effect in October will be used to punish opposition figures for revealing personal information about police and authorities, as well as to portray invasion of people’s privacy.
The law criminalizes online behavior that involves the unauthorized disclosure of personal data – including names, ID card numbers, phone numbers, photos and addresses – even if the disclosure does not cause harm. . Its aim, the government said, is “to combat the malicious acts of doxxing which have multiplied in recent years, in order to protect the privacy of the personal data of the general public.”
Violators can face fines of up to $ 13,000 and up to five years in jail.
“Since 2019, doxxers have been preying on those with different political positions by indiscriminately disclosing their personal data, in effect militarizing the personal data involved,” a government spokesperson said in an Oct.8 statement.
Doxxing has targeted both police and officials on the one hand and anti-government protesters on the other in anti-government protests since 2019, but the government has only publicly condemned doxxing against police and officials.
“Doxxing activities towards lawyers, judges, lawmakers and others involved in the administration of justice were found to increase in 2020, especially when cases relating to the 2019 incidents were heard. Such illegal acts must be curtailed, ”Hong Kong’s top justice official, Justice Secretary Teresa Cheng, wrote in a statement in March.
The law now allows authorities to access the electronic devices of any suspect without a warrant.
“Unduly severe” sanctions
Observers say they fear authorities will use law enforcement to invade people’s privacy.
Lowell Dittmer, professor of social sciences at the University of California at Berkeley, criticized the law for its “unduly severe” penalties. The law “has added to the repressive arsenal of national security law with a measure disguised as protection of human dignity,” Dittmer wrote to VOA.
Dittmer said the law could be used inappropriately to gain information about people.
“As part of the application [the law] in accordance with the National Security Law, they [authorities] will undoubtedly use all possible means of covert surveillance, ”he said.
Dongsheng Zang, associate professor of law at the University of Washington, called the law a “overreaction” by the government.
“The ordinance was promulgated in the name of privacy protection; but it may end up invading the privacy of more people, due to the broad powers given to the Privacy Commissioner, ”Zang wrote to VOA, referring to the Privacy Commissioner of Hong Kong for Personal Data, whose office oversees the implementation and compliance with the 1996 privacy legislation. , and will be given new power to enforce the anti-doxxing law.
“Many citizens and residents of Hong Kong will lose their privacy,” he said.
In July, the Asia Internet Coalition, an industry association whose members include large Internet and technology companies, expressed its opposition to the doxxing measure in a strongly worded statement.
“Subjecting intermediaries and their local subsidiaries to criminal investigations and prosecution for doxxing offenses under the proposed amendments is a completely disproportionate and unnecessary response to doxxing,” the group said.
Criticism “Free and open Internet”
The law also applies outside of Hong Kong, giving agents the power to send a ceasefire notice to foreign internet service providers, regardless of whether the disclosure is made in the city or not.
Law enforcement abroad could be difficult, Zang said.
“For foreign Internet service providers, if they don’t have an office in Hong Kong or their office in Hong Kong has no control over content, the Privacy Commissioner cannot do a lot. Enforcement would be limited, ”he said.
Local staff at foreign platforms should not be responsible for such disclosures, the industry association said.
“For the most part, if not all foreign platforms, their online services are provided by their respective global or regional offshore headquarters, as opposed to their local subsidiaries in Hong Kong. “
“A free and open Internet has been essential for Hong Kong’s development as a center of innovation and technology,” the group added.
Officials denied that the law would erode free speech and said it would only cover “illegal doxxing acts” in a July statement.
The enforcement unit added that there had been more than 5,700 doxxing-related cases between June 2019 and May of this year.
The industry association had threatened to stop offering services in Hong Kong if the bill passes, but the services are still functioning.