Hong Kong lawmakers are set to debate legal changes giving the government greater power to punish so-called doxxing offenses that a coalition of large tech companies says could hurt their ability to provide services.
The legal amendment being discussed in the Legislative Council Wednesday would create two types of offenses. The most serious, which involves a data disclosure that harms an individual or their relative, is punishable by five years in prison and a fine of HK$1 million (nearly $130,000). The other offense is for the release of someone’s data without their consent, and it allows for two years in jail and a fine of HK$100,000.
The formal introduction of the anti-doxxing amendments is likely to heighten concern that the government of the Asian financial hub is reining in voices of dissent. Beijing unveiled changes to the election system earlier this year that ensured only loyalists can govern Hong Kong, and in 2020 imposed a national security law that has been used to arrest at least 132 people, according to police data, roughly three-quarters for incidents related to speech.
Late last month, the Asia Internet Coalition, an industry group representing companies like Facebook Inc., Alphabet Inc.’s Google and Twitter Inc., detailed a set of objections to the new rules — prompting Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam to dismiss the concerns.
Among the key issues raised by the group was the absence of a concrete definition of doxxing, which is commonly understood as the disclosure of someone’s personal information against their wishes.
It also expressed concern about the broad investigative powers it would grant to Hong Kong’s privacy commissioner, and the liability for intermediary services such as Facebook and Twitter who may find themselves sanctioned for user content. Despite these concerns, no member of the AIC is seeking to pull out of Hong Kong, the coalition said in a separate email.
Representatives for Facebook and Google declined to comment. Twitter didn’t respond to an emailed request for comment.
Lam likened the worry over the amendments to the earlier concern over the security law, saying: “Only through the implementation of a regulation will we know how effective it is.”
Privacy Commissioner Ada Chung said on a Radio Television Hong Kong program on Friday that websites could be blocked if they didn’t remove content related to doxxing, but said that move would be a last resort.
The first and second readings of the legal amendment are scheduled for Wednesday. Bills in Hong Kong are passed after the third reading, though it is unclear when that will happen. The government said in a statement on July 14 that it is supporting lawmakers “in scrutinizing the Bill to strive for its early passage.”
Hong Kong opposition lawmakers resigned en masse last year to protest Beijing’s political crackdown, leaving the Legislative Council filled with government supporters who can easily pass any piece of legislation.