Facebook, Google and Twitter threaten to leave Hong Kong over privacy law changes

Tech companies are already at odds with the Hong Kong government, and that tension appears to be on the rise. The Wall Street Journal has learned that the Asia Internet Coalition, a tech alliance including Facebook, Google and Twitter, has quietly warned Hong Kong that companies would stop operating in the territory if officials move forward with data protection law amendments that could hold companies liable for doxxing campaigns.

The tech giants are worried that staff could face criminal investigations or even charges if users share personal info online, even if they didn’t mean any harm. That would be a “completely disproportionate and unnecessary response” and could chill free speech, the Coalition wrote. The alliance instead suggested that Hong Kong narrow the scope of violations.

Hong Kong’s Privacy Commissioner for Personal Data acknowledged the letter’s existence, but said that new measures were needed after doxxing pushed the “limits of morality and the law.” The Commissioner also insisted that the changed laws would “not have any bearing” on freedom of speech, and wouldn’t deter outside investment in the Hong Kong region.

The amendments could be approved by the end of the legislative year.

The concern, as you might guess, is that pro-China officials might abuse the updated laws to silence dissent. Pro-democracy activists doxxed police officers and others frequently during the 2019 protests, and there’s a worry that the revised laws could be worded loosely enough that merely sharing a photo of someone in a public space could get both sharers and tech companies in trouble. It could be harder to hold police accountable for violence, or to criticize officials for anti-democratic policies.

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