For several Internet giants, a red line seems to have been crossed. Hours before the Hong Kong chief executive spoke out in defense of a national security law imposed by China, Google, Twitter and Facebook (including WhatsApp messaging) announced on the night of 6-7 July that they will no longer respond to requests for information about their users from the Hong Kong government and authorities.
“We believe that freedom of expression is a fundamental human right and we support the right of people to express themselves without fear for their safety and without fear of other repercussions”, a Facebook spokesperson told Agence France-Presse (AFP). Twitter also informed the AFP of its “Serious concerns” about this law.
They are not alone in their approach. The professional social network LinkedIn, owned by Microsoft, also made a similar announcement. Same thing for Russian Telegram messaging, and another messaging, Signal, assured that she never delivered any information on its users and intends to continue in this direction. The social network TikTok (owned by the Chinese company ByteDance), which for several months has been trying to stand out and less link its image to that of Beijing, went even further and announced the suspension of its application in Hong Kong because of this law.
Apple says it is in the process of evaluating the new law, but has not taken any specific action so far. The Cupertino company assures, however, that it has not received any request for the disclosure of information about its users since the entry into force of the law.
Former British colony returned to China in 1997, Hong Kong enjoys – as a special administrative region – certain freedoms, in comparison with mainland China. Hong Kong residents thus have access to Western services on the Internet (such as Google, Facebook and Twitter), often blocked by Beijing, and by what is nicknamed the “virtual great wall”.
But these freedoms are called into question by new legislation on national security in Hong Kong adopted on June 30. This law is accused of paving the way for radical changes and a potential authoritarian turn, which Carrie Lam, the chief executive of Hong Kong, who defended this text Monday July 6, and pledged to deny, denies. ”“Apply vigorously”.
The new law aims to punish four types of crime against the security of the state: subversive activities, secession, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces. It also provides that the Chinese justice is competent for the attacks “Serious” security and to impose life sentences for crimes against national security.
At the beginning of July, in a few hours, a climate of fear descended on the city, the law criminalizing in particular the fact of calling for independence or for greater autonomy of Hong Kong. Many residents have erased computer traces of their democratic commitment as the government ordered schools on Monday to remove books that may infringe the text.
Internet giants’ announcements, however, do not mean that all ties to Hong Kong are broken. So at least one of them, Google, will not completely stop cooperating with local authorities. Contacted by Reuters, the Mountain View company says it will continue to consider requests from the Hong Kong government to remove content from its services. Clearly, Google indicates that it can delete certain content at the request of the Hong Kong government, but will not provide any personal information about its users. Twitter and Facebook, however, did not respond on this point.
Still, as the New york times“This surprising consensus on the part of rival US Internet giants, all of whom used similar language in their press releases, is a rare public questioning of Chinese politics.”.
Especially since by choosing to stand up to Beijing, these different companies are also going against this new law, advises the American daily. According to the new rules, “If an internet company refuses to submit to a court order and to deliver data in national security cases, it could be fined up to $ 13,000 [11 500 euros] and an employee could be sentenced to six months in prison. “