Carrie Lam Dismisses Fears Over Hong Kong Bill Spooking Big Tech

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam on Tuesday dismissed concerns about proposed legal amendments that would give its privacy commissioner far-reaching powers to investigate so-called doxxing offenses online.

A June 25 letter from the Asia Internet Coalition, an industry group representing companies like Facebook Inc., Alphabet Inc.’s Google and Twitter Inc., detailed a set of objections to the new rules. In particular, it concluded the sanctions contemplated in the new provisions threatened the ability of its members to provide services in Hong Kong.

“When these amendments are introduced, it is like the national security law that sparked concerns and anxiety at the time of legislation,” Lam said in response on Tuesday. “Only through the implementation of a regulation will we know how effective it is.”

Her comparison may not reassure those concerned about the anti-doxxing measure. The national security law has radically transformed Hong Kong’s political and legal landscape, with authorities using an expansive interpretation of the statute that has belied Lam’s assurances last year that the measure would “only target an extremely small minority of illegal and criminal acts.”

Hong Kong’s Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Bureau has proposed to expand the scope of existing data privacy legislation to include doxxing acts committed with the “intent to cause psychological harm” to the individual and their family members. Under the new amendment, a doxxing conviction would be punishable by as many as five years in prison and a fine of HK$1 million, up from the current penalty of six months in jail.

Among the key issues raised by the Asia Internet Coalition in relation to the new amendment was the absence of a concrete definition of doxxing, which is commonly understood as the disclosure of someone’s personal information against their wishes. They also expressed concern about the broad investigatory powers it would grant to Hong Kong’s privacy commissioner and the liability for intermediary services such as Facebook and Twitter who may find themselves sanctioned for user content.

“The only way to avoid these sanctions for technology companies would be to refrain from investing and offering their services in Hong Kong,” the AIC letter said. The organization said the letter didn’t mention any individual member company, and it would be inaccurate to say any single member is planning to leave Hong Kong.

Representatives for Facebook, Twitter and Google declined to comment.

“The Privacy Office welcomes comments from stakeholders on the amendment and will meet in the short-term with representatives of Asian Internet Coalition to better understand their views,” said a spokesperson from the Office for the Privacy Commissioner for Personal Data.

Hong Kong opposition lawmakers resigned en masse last year to protest Beijing’s crackdown, leaving the Legislative Council filled with government supporters who can easily pass any piece of legislation. There’s no current timetable for the bill’s passage.

“Many people have been traumatized by doxxing,” Lam said on Tuesday. “The proposed amendments to the law will address this problem.”

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