Hong Kong’s “doxing” crackdown raises more fears for businesses

During the Hong Kong protests in 2019, doxing – the malicious sharing of personal information online – was widespread.

Protesters used Facebook and Telegram to broadcast details of police officers accused of violence, and government supporters released private information from opposition politicians, activists and journalists.

“Such an armament is without a doubt the worst form of data [use] in action we’ve never seen before ” he said Hong Kong Privacy Commissioner for Personal Data. From mid-June 2019 to March 2020, there were about 5,000 doxing incidents reported, or discovered by, the commissioner, according to the department’s annual report. A number of people who had shared the personal data of police officers were imprisoned. By 2020 as a whole, the number of doxing cases had dropped to about 1,000 while protests had dropped during the pandemic.

Hong Kong is now taking more action on doxing with changes to data privacy laws. But in doing so, it has raised concerns that the new measures will give the space administration power to regain freedom of expression, limit access to public information and limit the functioning of social media groups.

Companies such as Google, Facebook and Twitter have warned about the impact of policy changes that will give the privacy commissioner great powers to launch criminal investigations and trials against local social media offices for failing to do so. not removing material on their platforms. It could also effectively make employees of technical groups responsible for user content. And Hong Kong said it could block access to websites containing doxing content.

Technology groups say they can be forced to stop providing services in the territory due to changes. “The only way to avoid these sanctions is to do so.” . . would be reluctant to invest and offer its services in Hong Kong, ”says the Asia Internet Coalition, which represents technology groups.

The proposals would mean that sharing personal information online that could cause the subject “psychological harm” would result in harsh penalties ranging up to five years in prison. The AIC says this is too broad and discretionary a term to be used as appropriate legal evidence.

In other measures, company directors will be allowed to withhold part of their personal information, such as complete identification numbers, from the Hong Kong companies register.

This led to concerns that directors could use versions of their name in different languages ​​to obscure their identity, making fraud more likely. Following a scrutiny by corporate governance groups, investors, lawyers and accountants – who use the registry to conduct investigations and due diligence – some people, as liquidators of the company, may request full access to information .

There is a reason why Hong Kong is acting on the abuse of publicly available personal information. Hong Kong’s data confidentiality laws are lagging behind in international standards, especially in the event of major corporate data breaches. And the damage caused to people who are victims of doxing should not be minimized.

However, critics say Hong Kong’s political response has the potential to severely limit the free flow of information for legitimate purposes. This would also undermine Hong Kong’s reputation as an international trading center.

“It’s an incredibly mainland Chinese mode of operation, designed to invest an enormous amount of discretion in the authorities in terms of how the rules are applied,” says a senior advisor to technology companies.

In mainland China, u repression on the ride-hailing app Didi last week showed how the mission of protecting data confidentiality can be implemented with great impact, in this case draining billions of dollars from the company’s value.

Carrie Lam, the executive director of Hong Kong, has denied concerns about the implementation of the new policies, saying the territory only wants to target “illegal doxing”. However, their reassurance may not have brought much comfort to international affairs. Lam compare data confidentiality measures to the implementation of the national security law last year, which radically changed Hong Kong’s legal landscape.

And for international companies operating in Hong Kong, the new measures address widespread questions – how do territorial authorities enforce the laws? And an action on the privacy bell with common rules of law?

“In the past there was faith,” said the senior adviser to technology companies, “but this certainty has been eroded.”

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