Hong Kong's National Security Law Allows Police To Censor The Internet, Compel Decryption
from the bringing-Hong-Kong-down-to-China's-level dept
The national security law the Hong Kong government passed solely with the intent of shutting down protests and local dissent is amazingly bad. It criminalizes secession, subversion, terrorism, and foreign interference. Violators of any of these purposely vaguely defined terms face potential life imprisonment.
Demonstrators protesting against China’s refusal to respect the rights of Hong Kong residents — something it agreed to do when it took possession of the region in 1997 — have already begun their self-censorship, unsure what words or actions could trigger criminal charges. Prominent pro-democracy figures are fleeing the country and the Hong Kong government is ridding its libraries of pro-democracy writings.
The new law grants broad new powers to security forces, including local police. Warrantless searches are no longer the exception. Police officials can approve “urgent” warrantless entry by officers to search for “evidence” of the new list of crimes. Forfeiture and/or freezing of assets is also in play, along with the revoking of passports when someone is suspected of violating the law.
But the new law goes further than anything erected before it, pretty much giving police direct control of the internet.
[T]he commissioner of police is to be given powers to control the dissemination of information online, when they have “reasonable grounds” to suspect such information may lead to national security crimes. Such enforcement may require a relevant publisher, platform service provider, hosting service provider or network service providers to remove information that the authorities deem a threat to national security. They may also restrict or stop anyone from accessing to such platforms.
This makes operating any internet-based service inside Hong Kong untenable. And that’s only the beginning of the list of demands. Officers can also seize electronics to “remove information,” which means servers can be taken offline at a moment’s notice, rendering tons of legal content suddenly inaccessible.
Any identifying information ISPs have gathered on their users must be turned over to police on demand. Even scarier, the law contains a mandate compelling service providers to provide “decryption assistance” whenever the government asks for it.
Failing to comply with these demands will result in publishers, service providers, and communications platforms being fined and/or their employees jailed.
This doesn’t just affect Hong Kong-based services and publishers. The law says police can target content posted by non-residents and demand takedowns from foreign services or ensure the content is made unavailable to Hong Kong residents. The extraterritorial aspects of the law will only be as effective as those willing to comply with Hong Kong law enforcement. So far, two encrypted messaging services have already said they’re not willing to cooperate with the government’s demands.
On Monday, Facebook and its messaging service WhatsApp said they were suspending requests from the Hong Kong government and law enforcement authorities for user information. Messaging app Telegram also told HKFP a day before that it will temporarily refuse data requests from the city’s authorities until there is international consensus over the ongoing political changes.
China is expanding its great internet firewall around Hong Kong, but it’s building it from the inside out, turning dissent and the residents’ desire to live under a democracy into criminal acts and allowing the police to decide what speech is acceptable.