Anti-doxing laws could see US tech giants pull out of Hong Kong

8 July 2021

Anti-doxing laws: US Tech giants vs Hong Kong. (Photo by Peter PARKS / AFP)

  • The Asia Internet Coalition (AIC) stated their concern that the new rules could leave their employees exposed to potential criminal investigations or prosecutions
  • Due to the vague wording in the proposed amendments, the coalition suggested considering a more clearly defined scope to violations

The act of revealing personal identifying information on the internet is also known as ‘doxxing’, which became an issue in Hong Kong after the 2019 introduction of a law that would have made it easier for locals to be tried in Chinese courts. Now, under a series of proposed amendments to the data protection laws by the Hong Kong government last week, anyone engaged in doxxing with the intent to threaten, intimidate, harass or cause psychological harm could face up to five years behind bars and a fine of as much as HK$1 million (approximately US$128,765).

The amendments to privacy laws were proposed following the violent social turmoil in 2019, during which supporters of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement posted personal information of police officers and their family members on the internet. The government alleges there were several instances of doxxing during the 2019 pro-democracy protests that brought Hong Kong to a standstill.

Under the proposal, a person commits an offense when disclosing an individual’s personal data without his or her consent, with the intention to threaten, intimidate or harass the individual or immediate family members. It is also an offense to spread such personal data with the intention of causing psychological harm to a person or his family. Reports claim that the new anti-doxxing laws will be put to the Hong Kong Legislative Council in a bill expected to be approved by the end of the legislative year.

What are the tech giants saying?

Experts believe the doxxing claim is merely a pretext – Hong Kong’s internet freedom is the big target. That’s how proposed amendments to the territory’s personal data law are starting to look, and the world’s biggest tech companies are right to be concerned with an increasing need to face the reality that China’s Great Firewall of censorship is being extended to the territory.

A letter from the Asia Internet Coalition (AIC) – a tech industry group that includes Google, Facebook, and Twitter in the region – drove home the risks of Hong Kong’s proposed anti-doxxing rules. AIC Managing Director Jeff Paine said in the same letter to the Hong Kong Office of the Privacy Commissioner for Personal Data that while his group is against doxxing, vague wording in the proposed new law could open up companies and local staff members to criminal investigations and prosecution, due to instances of information dumping by users of these popular platforms.

“Introducing sanctions aimed at individuals is not aligned with global norms and trends,” Paine was quoted as stating. Instead of the current proposed change, the AIC urged adopting a clearer scope as to what would constitute a violation, and also asked for a videoconference discussion with the office to discuss potential changes.

The letter concluded that tech companies could stop offering their services in Hong Kong if the law was brought in. The threat of a withdrawal is just the latest incident in a fraying relationship between the majority of so-called American ‘Big Tech’ companies and local governments. In response, Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam brushed off the warning and said officials would meet companies that are concerned about the changes. The government department reiterated that the changes to the law would only concern unlawful doxxing. “We are targeting illegal doxxing and empowering the privacy commissioners to investigate and carry out operations, that’s it,” Lam told reporters at a weekly news briefing.