Hong Kong Court Hands Down Protest-Targeting Order Banning Online Content That 'Incites Violence'

from the less-speech,-more-silence dept

The ongoing Hong Kong protests aren't going to end anytime soon, but the government keeps throwing stuff against the wall to see what sticks. While US corporate entities are busy exchanging their spines for Chinese market share, those actually on the front lines are standing up for Hong Kong protesters.

Hong Kong retains some autonomy from the Chinese government, which has allowed it to somewhat elude being cut off from the world by the Great Firewall of China. Local ISPs aren't willing to play the government's game, pushing back against demands they engage in censorship of Hong Kong residents on behalf of China. Pointing to the existence of VPNs and encrypted traffic, ISPs said any efforts it made would be mostly useless, if they were interested in making this effort. Which they weren't.

Other providers, like Telegram, have refused government demands to censor content and have faced repeated DDoS attacks from state-sponsored hackers in retaliation. What's already being attempted will likely accelerate, thanks to an order handed down by the Hong Kong high court.

A court on Thursday granted Hong Kong’s embattled government an interim injunction banning anyone from posting or spreading messages online that could incite violence as authorities struggle to get a grip on nearly five months of protest chaos and social unrest.

Mr Justice Russell Coleman of the High Court issued the order to restrain members of the public from “wilfully disseminating, circulating, publishing or republishing” any material on platforms online such as popular Reddit-like forum LIHKG and messaging app Telegram that “promotes, encourages or incites the use or threat of violence”.

This temporary injunction that allows the government to target protesters will likely be formalized later this month, obligating service providers to find content and block it, even if it's not entirely clear what content is considered a violation of this order.

The judge himself suggested the injunction might make it easier for the government to find protesters it wants to punish.

“One purpose of application for this order is to identify to people who may not know that expressions online are subject to scrutiny by the law,” he continued. “It may be a misconception to think that expressions online are not subject to scrutiny.”

But the order itself contains no requirements that social media platforms or other service providers hand over users' details. It only requires them to find content and remove it. This would make platforms responsible for content created by users, which may be all the government wants, since it's so much easier to track down platforms than users.

But will it work? That depends on what the government really wants. If it wants service providers to make it more difficult for protesters to organize, then it will probably be a success. If the government wants to prosecute individuals for their posts, this injunction isn't going to help it much.

The government bears the burden of proof, which means it must be able to show the person violating the injunction knew of the injunction's existence and violated it knowingly. Since this isn't a law created by the legislature but rather a quasi-law created by a court order, ignorance of its existence is probably a legitimate excuse. And since there's no obligation to hand over user details, the government may not have much luck finding people to prosecute. Given these limitations, it seems clear the government is more interested in forcing service providers to censor on its behalf.

Hide this

Thank you for reading this Techdirt post. With so many things competing for everyone’s attention these days, we really appreciate you giving us your time. We work hard every day to put quality content out there for our community.

Techdirt is one of the few remaining truly independent media outlets. We do not have a giant corporation behind us, and we rely heavily on our community to support us, in an age when advertisers are increasingly uninterested in sponsoring small, independent sites — especially a site like ours that is unwilling to pull punches in its reporting and analysis.

While other websites have resorted to paywalls, registration requirements, and increasingly annoying/intrusive advertising, we have always kept Techdirt open and available to anyone. But in order to continue doing so, we need your support. We offer a variety of ways for our readers to support us, from direct donations to special subscriptions and cool merchandise — and every little bit helps. Thank you.

–The Techdirt Team

Filed Under: censorship, china, free speech, hong kong, incitement, protests, violence

Reader Comments

Subscribe: RSS

View by: Time | Thread

  1. icon
    PaulT (profile), 13 Nov 2019 @ 6:58am

    Re: ???

    Wow, the ignorance and arrogance combined...

    1. A name doesn't necessarily indicate nationality, especially in a country with a long history of intertwining cultures.

    2. People don't instantly abandon their lives and families the second political climates change. Many

    3. A quick Google search would tell you there's still somewhere in the region of 20-30,000 British citizens still living there. Not as many as before, but it's a small town's worth of people.

    4. A quick search on the name would have told you that the gentleman in question started with the Hong Kong bar in 1991, and has continually been moving upward in his career since 2006. In other words, he's in the position because of work he's done AFTER 1997, when you claim he should have abandoned his life there.

    "And what are they doing on the High Court?"

    Because they have not moved to a 100% Chinese government governemt. In fact, did you notice any protests? They're actually about trying to stop that from happening.

Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Subscribe to the Techdirt Daily newsletter

Comment Options:

  • Use markdown. Use plain text.
  • Make this the First Word or Last Word. No thanks. (get credits or sign in to see balance)    
  • Remember name/email/url (set a cookie)

Follow Techdirt

Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Essential Reading
Techdirt Deals
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Techdirt Insider Discord

The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...

Recent Stories

This site, like most other sites on the web, uses cookies. For more information, see our privacy policy. Got it

Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.