Hong Kong: Platforms must not share user data with authorities

Hong Kong: Platforms must not share user data with authorities - Digital

Facebook, Twitter and Google have announced that they will not process requests for user information made by Hong Kong authorities, following China’s adoption of national security legislation that grants sweeping powers to crack down on dissent. 

ARTICLE 19 welcomes this move but calls on these and other tech companies to go further. They should make permanent their decisions not to share user data with Hong Kong authorities and should challenge laws and orders that violate international standards on freedom of expression and privacy.

“Information about Hong Kongers’ online activities could be central to prosecutions under the new national security legislation,” said Matthew Bugher, ARTICLE 19’s Head of Asia Programme.

“By handing over user data, social media companies could become complicit in the conviction and imprisonment of pro-democracy activists, human rights defenders and others exercising their rights to freedom of expression and assembly. Companies should be particularly careful not to share meta-data, which could reveal an individual’s location or other identifying information.”

Companies should oppose government orders that would result in violations of human rights. In practice, companies should resist government requests to restrict content that is protected by the right to freedom of expression or to provide user data that could be used to crack down on protesters, human rights defenders or government critics. This includes challenging such orders before the courts. 

The national security legislation, which was passed by China’s central government, includes broad and vaguely defined prohibitions on separatism, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign countries. These provisions have already been used to target peaceful protesters. Pro-democracy activists, opposition politicians, human rights defenders, journalists and internet users fear the law will facilitate a broader crackdown on freedoms in Hong Kong.

The government of China and Hong Kong authorities must respect the right to protest, including in online spaces, and the right to anonymity. Any attempt by States to gain backdoor access to people’s communications or to obtain meta-data that would strip protesters of their right to anonymity constitutes a violation of international law. Anonymous speech is vital for human rights defenders, journalists and protestors.

For more information contact: 

Matthew Bugher, Head of Asia Programme, [email protected] 

Pam Cowburn, Media Editor, [email protected]