TikTok leaves Hong Kong amid concerns over security law

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TikTok said Tuesday it would cease operations in Hong Kong, joining other social media companies in the cautious ramifications of a general national security law that went into effect last week.Hong Kong’s abbreviated video app’s planned departure is in the form of various social media platforms and messaging apps, including Facebook, WhatsApp, Telegram, Google and Twitter, reluctant to provide user data to Hong Kong authorities.

Social media companies say they assess the implications of the security law, which prohibits what Beijing considers secessionist, subversive or terrorist activities or as foreign intervention in the city’s internal affairs. In the communist-ruled mainland, foreign social media platforms are blocked by the Chinese “big firewall”.

Critics see the law as Beijing’s most daring step in bridging the legal gap between the former British colony and the authoritarian Communist Party system on the continent.

TikTok said in a statement that it had decided to suspend operations “in light of recent events”.

Protesters carry the flag that reads “Liberate Hong Kong, Revolution of Our Time” in Hong Kong last month. A new security law criminalizes some of these pro-democracy slogans. (Kin Cheung / The Associated Press)

Facebook and its WhatsApp messaging application said in separate statements on Monday that they would freeze consideration of government requests for user data in Hong Kong, “pending further assessment of the national security law, including included human rights due diligence and consultations with international human rights experts. . ”

Hong Kong has been plagued by massive, sometimes violent, anti-government protests for much of the past year, as residents of the former British colony have reacted to the extradition bill since its withdrawal, which could have led some suspects to be tried by Chinese courts.

The new law criminalizes certain pro-democracy slogans such as the widely used “Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our time”, which, according to the Hong Kong government, has a separatist connotation.

The fear is that it will erode the special freedoms of the semi-autonomous city, which has operated under a “one country, two systems” since China took control in 1997. This arrangement allowed Hong Kong freedoms not allowed in mainland China, such as unlimited Internet access and public dissent.

Telegram, whose platform has been widely used to deliver pro-democracy messages and information about protests, understands “the importance of protecting the privacy rights of our users in Hong Kong,” said Mike Ravdonikas , spokesperson for the company.

Twitter suspends Hong Kong data requests

“Telegram has never shared data with Hong Kong authorities in the past and does not intend to process requests for data relating to its Hong Kong users until an international consensus is reached regarding the political changes taking place in the city, “he said. .

Twitter has also suspended all requests for data and information from Hong Kong authorities after the law came into force last week, the company said, noting that it was “committed to protecting people using our service and their freedom of expression. ”

“Like many public interest organizations, civil society leaders and entities and industry peers, we have serious concerns about the process of drafting and the full intent of this law,” said the company in a press release.

Google also said it had “halted the production of any new data requests from the Hong Kong authorities.”

Although social platforms have not yet been blocked in Hong Kong, users have started cleaning up their accounts and deleting pro-democracy messages for fear of reprisals. This retreat spread to the streets: many shops and stores that were publicly in solidarity with the demonstrators removed the stickers and the pro-democracy illustrations that adorned their walls.

Chinese President Xi Jinping voted on Hong Kong’s national security law during the closing session of the National People’s Congress (NPC) in Beijing on May 28. (Carlos Garcia Rawlins / Reuters)

Under the implementing rules of section 43 of the National Security Act, which give city police forces extensive law enforcement, platforms, publishers and Internet service providers may be ordered to withdraw any published electronic message that is “likely to constitute an offense”. endangering national security or likely to cause the occurrence of an offense endangering national security. ”

Hong Kong police arrest 370

Service providers who fail to comply with these requests could face fines of up to HK $ 100,000 (C $ 17,506) and prison terms of up to six months.

People who post such messages may also be asked to withdraw the message, or face similar fines and a one-year prison sentence.

Hong Kong authorities quickly implemented the law after it came into effect on June 30, after police arrested around 370 people.

The rules authorize Hong Kong CEO Carrie Lam to authorize the police to intercept communications and conduct surveillance to “prevent and detect crimes that endanger national security.”

Police can search for evidence without a warrant in “exceptional circumstances” and ask for warrants for allegedly violating national security law to hand over their travel documents, preventing them from leaving Hong Kong.

Written notices or restraining orders may also be issued to freeze or confiscate property if there are “reasonable grounds” to suspect that the property is related to an offense endangering national security.

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