Facebook, others block requests on Hong Kong user data

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FILE - This March 29, 2018, file photo shows the Facebook logo on screens at the Nasdaq MarketSite in New York's Times Square. Social media site and messaging services Facebook, WhatsApp and Telegram will suspend processing law enforcement requests for user data in Hong Kong, as they assess the impact of the new national security law enacted in the city last week. Facebook and its popular messaging app subsidiary WhatsApp said in separate statements Monday, July 6, 2020, that they would pause the review of government requests for user data in Hong Kong, pending further assessment of the National Security Law, including formal human rights due diligence and consultations with international human rights experts. (AP Photo/Richard Drew, File)

HONG KONG – Social media platforms and messaging apps including Facebook, WhatsApp, Telegram, Google and Twitter say they will deny law enforcement requests for user data in Hong Kong while studying ramifications of a national security law enacted last week.

Facebook and its messaging app WhatsApp said in separate statements Monday that they would freeze the review of government requests for user data in Hong Kong, “pending further assessment of the National Security Law, including formal human rights due diligence and consultations with international human rights experts.”

The policy changes follow the rollout last week of laws prohibiting what Beijing views as secessionist, subversive or terrorist activities, or as foreign intervention in the territory's internal affairs. The legislation criminalizes some pro-democracy slogans like the widely used “Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our time,” which the Hong Kong government says has separatist connotations.

The fear is that the new law erodes the freedoms of the semi-autonomous city, which has operated under a “one country, two systems" framework after Britain handed the colony to China in 1997. That framework has allowed Hong Kong and its people freedoms not found in mainland China, such as unrestricted internet access.

Spokesman Mike Ravdonikas said Monday that Telegram understands “the importance of protecting the right to privacy of our Hong Kong users.” Telegram has been used broadly to spread pro-democracy messages and information about the protests in Hong Kong.

“Telegram has never shared any data with the Hong Kong authorities in the past and does not intend to process any data requests related to its Hong Kong users until an international consensus is reached in relation to the ongoing political changes in the city,” he said.

Twitter also paused all data and information requests from Hong Kong authorities after the law went into effect last week, the company said. It is studying the implications of the security law.

“Like many public interest organisations, civil society leaders and entities, and industry peers, we have grave concerns regarding both the developing process and the full intention of this law,” the company said in a statement.