© Reuters. File photo: A security guard stands in front of the Legislative Council logo on May 26, 2021, Hong Kong, China. Reuters/Lam Yik
Hong Kong (Reuters)-The Hong Kong Legislative Council, which has no opposition party, began discussing privacy laws on Wednesday to address the “human behavior” that some tech giants fear is too broad and vague, which may hinder the city’s operations.
Critics of legislation, including human rights and technology industry organizations, say these measures can be used to protect those in power and target civil society. Proponents say that the legislation is long overdue to resolve issues that have deteriorated since the city’s massive democratic protests in 2019.
Human flesh searches-the public release of personal or identity information about individuals or organizations-were censored after they posted detailed information about police and judges online after the protests.
Some police home addresses and children’s schools were exposed by anti-government protesters, leading to threats.
Since Beijing implemented a comprehensive national security law in 2020, the government has pushed Hong Kong on an increasingly authoritarian path. After democratic legislators collectively resigned last year to protest the disqualification of colleagues, the government has not faced any official opposition.
This means that the law can be passed quickly, authorizing the Office of the Personal Data Privacy Commissioner to investigate and prosecute human flesh searches.
Violators include anyone who discloses personal data without consent, “intent to cause specific harm or irrespective of the consequences for the harm caused.”
“Specific injuries” include harassment, threats, intimidation, physical injury, psychological injury, and making the victim worry about safety, etc. Violators may face fines of up to HK$1 million (US$128,736) and five years in prison.
The commissioner can apply to enter the search premises and seize materials for investigation, and can access electronic devices without a search warrant. It can also issue notifications anywhere in the world to delete content or prevent access to the content.
The Asian Internet Alliance, an advocacy organization including Google (NASDAQ:), Facebook (NASDAQ:), and Twitter, warned in a letter to the Commissioner of Hong Kong on June 25 that, If the authorities continue to advance these changes, technology companies may stop providing services in Hong Kong.
The coalition stated that these measures “do not conform to global norms and trends,” and any legislation that may restrict freedom of speech “must be based on the principle of necessity and proportionality.”
“The government’s interpretation of human flesh search is not necessarily the same as that of technology companies,” an executive of one of the technology companies told Reuters, unnamed because of the sensitivity of the matter.
Privacy Commissioner Ada Chung said that she met with representatives of the alliance this month. She said that they have “clarified” that they are still committed to Hong Kong and that human flesh searches are a matter of serious concern.
Representatives of Facebook and Twitter mentioned the letter from the Asian Internet Alliance to Reuters and stated that their companies currently have nothing to add. Google did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The government stated that human flesh searches “weaponized personal data and caused great harm to society in recent years.”
City leader Lin Zhengyue’e said she believes officials will be able to “eliminate concerns raised by online platforms.”
The government stated that between June 2019 and April 2021, the commissioner received more than 5,700 complaints related to human flesh searches. During this period, the police arrested 17 persons suspected of human flesh searches, two of whom have been convicted.
($1 = 7.7678 HKD)