As Beijing Continues To Creep Into Hong Kong, Internet Censorship Begins
from the democracy-on-decline dept
As we’ve written about recently, Beijing’s creep into Hong Kong control has turned into nearly a dash as of late. What started with July’s new “national security” law that allowed the mainland to meddle in Hong Kong’s affairs led to arrests of media members in July, the expulsion and arrest of pro-democracy politicians in November, and then expanded arrests of members of the public who have said the wrong things in January.
And as that mad dash to tighten its grip before a new American administration takes office continues, Beijing appears to be starting the process of censoring the internet in Hong Kong as well. In a move likely designed to make this all look reasonable, the first reports revolve around a website used to post information about Hong Kong police.
Hong Kong’s biggest mobile telecom companies appear to have severed access to a website that listed the personal information of police officers, setting off fears that the authorities may use a new national security law to adopt censorship tactics widely used in mainland China.
Users attempting to access the site, called HKChronicles, on their mobile devices first noticed the disruption on Wednesday evening, according to the site’s owner, Naomi Chan, an 18-year-old high school student. Disruption came without any warning or explanation, she said.
Now, I can write the comments from some of you here to save you the trouble: if this is a site dedicated to doxxing police officers, how is blocking it unreasonable? Your desire to write that comment is almost certainly precisely why this site is the first to have gotten the mainland censorship treatment. But that’s entirely besides the point.
Instead, frame it in your mind this way: a site that had previously been accessible by Hong Kong citizens no longer is as a result of the desires of mainland China. In other words, don’t get lost in the details, just realize that this is likely the start of a trend. I don’t think anyone really wants to suggest in the comments that Beijing will censor this site and stop there, do they? I hope not, because nobody thinks this is anything other than the first domino to fall on its way to internet censorship.
The disruption raised the prospect that the city, long a bastion of online freedom, could begin to fall under the shadow of the tight censorship system that separates mainland Chinese internet from the rest of the online world. On Hong Kong social media, many people worried that the authorities could eventually bring the city’s overall access to the open internet to an end.
“Their talking point has been the national security law will only target a small group of people,” said Lokman Tsui, an assistant professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong who specializes in online communication. “In practice it hasn’t been limited to a small group of people,” Mr. Tsui said. “My concern is that internet censorship similarly won’t be limited to a small group of websites.”
It’s worth noting that, for now, the method for censorship is different than the mainland’s Great Firewall, but the end result is the same. I suppose the questions that remain are just how much more action Beijing is going to take prior to January 20th and what the Biden administration intends to do about any of this once it is in office.