USA warns Hong Kong government may demand business and customer data, run surveillance without warrants

Hong Kong authorities 'alarmed by unsubstantiated remarks'

Hong Kong's Chief Executive Carrie Lam has slammed a US government advisory that warns business of warrantless surveillance and the potential for forced surrender of corporate and customer data in the Special Administrative Region (SAR).

The advisory [PDF], issued on Friday US time by the US Departments of State, Treasury, Commerce, and Homeland Security, lists "Heightened Risks Regarding Data Privacy" as one of four concerns for businesses operating in the Region.

The advisory offers the following blunt assessment of the situation in Hong Kong:

Businesses face risks associated with electronic surveillance without warrants and the surrender of data to authorities.

The reason for that assessment is Hong Kong's National Security Law (NSL), an instrument that came into force on July 16th, 2020 – the same day as this advisory was published.

In a press release announcing the advisory's publication, US Secretary of State Anthony J. Blinken stated "The policies which the People's Republic of China government and the Government of Hong Kong have implemented undermine the legal and regulatory environment that is critical for individuals and businesses to operate freely and with legal certainty in Hong Kong."

The release added: "Businesses should be aware that the risks faced in mainland China are now increasingly present in Hong Kong."

The advisory states the law "introduced a heightened risk of PRC and Hong Kong authorities using expanded legal authorities to collect data from businesses and individuals in Hong Kong for actions that may violate 'national security'".

While the agencies that issued the advisory haven't seen national security used as a pretext to put the NSL into action on unrelated matters, the document suggests such overreach is possible. That potential, plus the NSL's empowerment of Hong Kong's Chief Executive to authorise wiretaps or electronic surveillance without the need for a court order, has the US worried that business data could be at risk.

Lam slammed the advisory, calling it and the press release "sweeping and totally unsubstantiated".

The Chief Executive also argued that "Hong Kong remains an open and free economy, underpinned by the rule of law and a robust regulatory regime", that the NSL is an uncontroversial instrument designed only to protect national security and respects human rights in Hong Kong.

Left unsaid is that the very introduction of the NSL was widely seen as a major change to the arrangements under which Hong Kong was returned to Chinese control in 1997, and meant that Beijing effectively gained more control over the SAR's affairs than was promised under the original "One nation, two systems" plan.

The US was critical of the NSL when it was announced and passed, and has regularly sanctioned Hong Kong officials on grounds they have eroded democracy.

The new advisory matters because Hong Kong remains an important financial centre, which China sees as a way for it to engage with global players that don't want to operate under mainland laws. Hong Kong needs its financial services industry to remain strong to sustain its economy. US criticism therefore has the potential to bruise Beijing by damaging Hong Kong's prospects – even if doing so imperils individual Hong Kong residents.

Hong Kong's government seems aware of that potential, as a second statement on the matter is titled "Malicious US attempts to damage Hong Kong's reputation as a global business hub doomed to fail". ®

Broader topics

Other stories you might like

  • ZTE intros 'cloud laptop' that draws just five watts of power
    The catch: It hooks up to desktop-as-a-service and runs Android – so while it looks like a laptop ...

    Chinese telecom equipment maker ZTE has announced what it claims is the first "cloud laptop" – an Android-powered device that the consumes just five watts and links to its cloud desktop-as-a-service.

    Announced this week at the partially state-owned company's 2022 Cloud Network Ecosystem Summit, the machine – model W600D – measures 325mm × 215mm × 14 mm, weighs 1.1kg and includes a 14-inch HD display, full-size keyboard, HD camera, and Bluetooth and Wi-Fi connectivity. An unspecified eight-core processors drives it, and a 40.42 watt-hour battery is claimed to last for eight hours.

    It seems the primary purpose of this thing is to access a cloud-hosted remote desktop in which you do all or most of your work. ZTE claimed its home-grown RAP protocol ensures these remote desktops will be usable even on connections of a mere 128Kbit/sec, or with latency of 300ms and packet loss of six percent. That's quite a brag.

    Continue reading
  • Intel delivers first discrete Arc desktop GPUs ... in China
    Why not just ship it in Narnia and call it a win?

    Updated Intel has said its first discrete Arc desktop GPUs will, as planned, go on sale this month. But only in China.

    The x86 giant's foray into discrete graphics processors has been difficult. Intel has baked 2D and 3D acceleration into its chipsets for years but watched as AMD and Nvidia swept the market with more powerful discrete GPU cards.

    Intel announced it would offer discrete GPUs of its own in 2018 and promised shipments would start in 2020. But it was not until 2021 that Intel launched the Arc brand for its GPU efforts and promised discrete graphics silicon for desktops and laptops would appear in Q1 2022.

    Continue reading
  • Former chip research professor jailed for not disclosing Chinese patents
    This is how Beijing illegally accesses US tech, say Feds

    The former director of the University of Arkansas’ High Density Electronics Center, a research facility that specialises in electronic packaging and multichip technology, has been jailed for a year for failing to disclose Chinese patents for his inventions.

    Professor Simon Saw-Teong Ang was in 2020 indicted for wire fraud and passport fraud, with the charges arising from what the US Department of Justice described as a failure to disclose “ties to companies and institutions in China” to the University of Arkansas or to the US government agencies for which the High Density Electronics Center conducted research under contract.

    At the time of the indictment, then assistant attorney general for national security John C. Demers described Ang’s actions as “a hallmark of the China’s targeting of research and academic collaborations within the United States in order to obtain U.S. technology illegally.” The DoJ statement about the indictment said Ang’s actions had negatively impacted NASA and the US Air Force.

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022