Tech giants warn of cutting off service in Hong Kong over data-protection laws: report

Tech giants warn of cutting off service in Hong Kong over data-protection laws: report
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Tech giants including Facebook, Google and Twitter have reportedly issued a warning to Hong Kong's government that their services may be cut off in the city if authorities proceed with data protection laws that would make the companies liable if individuals' personally identifiable information is released without their consent, The Wall Street Journal reports.

The warning was made in a previously unreported letter sent on June 25 from the Singapore-based Asia Internet Coalition (AIC), the Journal reports. Other members of the coalition include Apple, Amazon, Yahoo and LinkedIn.

The proposed amendments to Hong Kong's data protection laws call for fines of up to 1 million Hong Kong dollars, about $128,800, and as much as five years in prison to combat "doxxing," in which an individual's private data is shared online. The Journal notes that this practice became prevalent when pro-democracy protests broke out in the city in 2019.

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“The only way to avoid these sanctions for technology companies would be to refrain from investing and offering the services in Hong Kong,” the AIC said in its letter, according to the Journal.

Subjecting tech firms to penalties if their users release another person's data would be a “completely disproportionate and unnecessary response,” the group added.

AIC President Jeff Paine specified that the members of his organization are opposed to such unauthorized releases of users' data, but said they were concerned that the vague wording of the proposed amendments would leave their locally based staff members vulnerable to prosecution and investigation, the Journal reports.

“The amendments will not have any bearing on free speech,” a spokesperson for Hong Kong's Privacy Commissioner for Personal Data told the Journal, acknowledging that the AIC's letter had been received. According to the spokesperson, the city's government “strongly rebuts any suggestion that the amendments may in any way affect foreign investment in Hong Kong."