Hong Kong legislature passes controversial anti-doxxing privacy bill

A Hong Kong flag is flown behind a pair of surveillance cameras outside the Central Government Offices in Hong Kong, China July 20, 2020. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu

HONG KONG, Sept 29 (Reuters) – Hong Kong’s legislature on Wednesday passed a privacy law tackling “doxxing” – the public release of information identifying an individual or organisation – that critics say could be used to protect those in power and target civil society.

Supporters say the legislation was long overdue to counter a problem festering since the city’s 2019 mass pro-democracy protests. Some officers’ home addresses and children’s schools were exposed by anti-government protesters, leading to threats.

But some technology companies are concerned the legislation is so broad and vague that it could hamper operations in Hong Kong. Human rights and pro-democrcay groups fear it could be used to crack down on dissent.

“This is to fight doxxing behaviour that divides society, as early as possible,” Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Secretary Erick Tsang, said in the Legislative Council, which has no opposition party.

“Foreign platforms have their own company policies requiring content on their platform to not violate the relevant local laws. Because of that we have confidence most foreign internet platforms will abide by notices to stop publishing under the new law.”

The law empowers The Office of the Privacy Commissioner for Personal Data to investigate and prosecute doxxing. Violators include anyone who discloses an individual’s personal data without consent “with an intent to cause specified harm or being reckless” about the harm caused.

“Specified harm” includes harassment, threat, intimidation, bodily harm, psychological harm, causing the victim to be concerned about safety, and others. Violators could face fines of up to HK$1 million ($129,000) and five years in prison.

The commissioner can apply for a warrant to enter and search premises and seize materials for investigation, and can access electronic devices without a warrant. It can also issue notices to remove content or block access to that content, anywhere in the world.

Asia Internet Coalition, an advocacy group that includes Google (GOOGL.O), Facebook (FB.O) and Twitter (TWTR.N), said in a June 25 letter to the commissioner that tech companies could stop offering their services in Hong Kong if authorities went ahead with the changes. read more

The coalition said the measures were “not aligned with global norms and trends,” and that any legislation that could curb freedom of speech “must be built upon principles of necessity and proportionality”. read more

Reporting by Pak Yiu; Editing by Angus MacSwan

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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Bong Schroeder