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Big Tech’s Asian lobby warns Hong Kong its anti-doxxing laws could see its members leave town

Current draft makes staff personally liable and Asia Internet Coalition says that could crimp innovation and hurt the economy

The Asia Internet Coalition (AIC), a lobby group that numbers Apple, Facebook, Google, Yahoo! and SAP among its members, has written to Hong Kong’s Office of the Privacy Commissioner for Personal Data (PCPD) and outlined objections to the Special Administrative Region’s proposed anti-doxxing laws.

Hong Kong’s government announced amendments to its Personal Data Privacy Ordinance (PDPO) in May 2021 after doxxing — the unauthorised release of personal information — became widely used during pro-democracy protests. Some used the tactic to name police and court staff who curtailed protests or ran cases, while others used doxxing to identify journalists, protestors or activists.

The proposed laws aim to outlaw doxxing and give Hong Kong’s government the power to order social media platforms and web site operators to take down personal information posted by doxxers.

The AIC wrote to the PCPD on June 25th and published [PDF] its letter on July 5th.

The document outlines a number of objections to the planned laws. Its principal gripe is that individual employees of social media platforms or web sites could be held criminally liable if doxxed content is not removed.

The AIC argues that holding staff liable is not appropriate, and that even local outposts of social media and web companies should not be the target of any action. Instead, the letter calls for “the real operating entity of the online services platform outside of Hong Kong” to be the target of any action.

That suggests lawsuits would have to be fought across jurisdictions — a more expensive and convoluted process than firing off a letter to a Hong Kong office.

The Coalition tossed in the following incendiary sentence, too:

The only way to avoid these sanctions for technology companies would be to refrain from investing and offering their services in Hong Kong, thereby depriving Hong Kong businesses and consumers, whilst also creating new barriers to trade.

The letter also warns that the current draft of the laws could hurt Hong Kong’s economy, as follows:

Thus, the possibility of prosecuting subsidiary employees will create uncertainties for businesses and affect Hong Kong’s development as an innovation and technology hub.

The letter also objects to the law on other grounds, including:

  • Defining doxxing as causing “psychological harm” is too broad;
  • The PDPO may not be the best legal instrument to deal with doxxing;
  • The law lacks an exemption for legitimate unauthorised publication of personal data in circumstances such as media reporting or when disculosure is in the public interest;
  • Proposed “Rectification Notices” that would be served to notify of takedown requests are excessive and unnecessary given social platforms already operate processes to respond to takedown requests.

The AIC’s letter was sent two days after Hong Kong’s most prominent newspaper, Apple Daily, ceased operations when its assets were frozen and many of its staff and senior management were arrested. The newspaper had a fiercely pro-Democracy stance and stood out in a media industry that seldom objects to Hong Kong’s government and its increasing deference to Beijing. ®

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