Hong Kong authorities are planning a new law regulating cybercrime, in a move that could lay the groundwork for China-style internet censorship in the city.
The law, which is currently under consultation by the city’s Law Reform Commission, would create new crimes including hacking, or unlawful interference with computer systems, as well as possessing data deemed which is “criminal” by the authorities.
Like the draconian national security law imposed in Hong Kong by the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) from July 1, 2020, the cybercrime law applies to acts and potentially speech anywhere in the world. It may also apply to data deemed to be in violation of that law, which has broad definitions of subversion, sedition, secessionist and terrorist speech and activity.
“The principle of extraterritorial jurisdiction should be applied,” the Law Reform Commission said in a news release about the law. “This change may also violate the law even if the data on the cloud server is not in Hong Kong.”
The law can be applied regardless of whether the victim or perpetrator is from Hong Kong, if any computer hardware or software is located in the city, or even if the perpetrator’s actions are considered “seriously harmful” in Hong Kong, according to by Derek Chan, of the commission’s subcommittee on cybercrime.
“Currently, it is common practice to store data on cloud servers,” Chan told reporters on July 20. “Many cloud servers are not located in Hong Kong, and the data is not in Hong Kong.”
“A hacker may not necessarily be a Hong Konger, but the data and people in the database may be [related to] Hong Kong,” said Chan.
“We think Hong Kong should have jurisdiction, even if the data or the person accessing it is in Hong Kong,” he said.
The new law is likely to criminalize “possession of criminal equipment or information” as well as “knowingly providing [such] equipment or information,” according to a consultation paper issued by the commission.
It could also lead to a new regulatory body to issue licenses to online security companies, so they can continue their research without breaking the law, CCP-backed Wen Wei Po and Ta Kung Pao report.
“The industry may need to set up a registration system to issue licenses to relevant industry personnel,” the joint papers quoted Chan as saying.
Hong Kong data scientist and pro-democracy activist Wong Ho-wa said many things remained unclear about the proposed law, including how easy it would be to break it.
“It’s very scary; the public should be afraid of how it will be implemented, with such a broad [definitions]”Wong said to RFA. “Even people who supply equipment can be targeted, such as selling routers or servers to others.”
“The net is so wide that it’s very difficult to avoid, so it scares a lot of people,” he said. “The definitions are very broad, if you try to understand them.”
Wong cited the example of using VPNs to avoid censorship, which can be viewed under the law as “unlawfully interfering with computer data.”
“Maybe it wouldn’t criminalize regular citizens using a VPN to watch Netflix, but what if a lot of people visited the same website? Would that be illegal interference? I don’t know ,” he said.
US travel warning
Current affairs commentator Sang Pu, who is a lawyer by training, said the law appears to extend the reach of the national security law into cyberspace.
“They are expanding their controls using computer and cybercrime as an excuse,” Sang told RFA. “I’m very concerned that this will lead to internet blocks and censorship, and all the AI censorship and keyword search term censorship that we see in [mainland] China is implemented in Hong Kong.”
The plans emerged as the United States updated its travel advisory to citizens planning to travel to Hong Kong to “take precautions due to wrongful detentions” and “arbitrary enforcement of local laws.”
Currently, anyone anywhere in the world, of any nationality can be arrested in territory controlled by China or countries that have extradition agreements with Beijing, if they are deemed to have violated Hong Kong’s national security law, which criminalized speech or actions deemed to “incite hatred. or discontent” against the authorities.
“A [Chinese government] The propaganda campaign falsely accused individuals, including US citizens, of inciting unrest in … Hong Kong,” the advisory warned. “In some cases, the campaign published their personal information, resulting in threats of violence on social media.”
The warning came on the third anniversary of the bloody attacks by unknown thugs wearing white T-shirts on activists and passengers at the Yuen Long MTR station at the height of the 2019 protest movement.
Social scientist Chung Kim-wah said that the current administration including chief executive John Lee and security chief Chris Tang were promoted after playing an important role in suppressing the protests, which began as a mass movement against extradition to mainland China, and expanded to include demands for full democratic elections and greater official accountability.
“John Lee, Chris Tang and others all bear inescapable responsibility for everything that happened before and after the incident on July 21, 2019,” Chung told RFA. “Now, they are high-ranking government officials, and … are covering up the facts.”
The police have been criticized for failing to intervene to stop the attacks despite being flooded with emergency calls within 40 minutes after the attackers started beating people.
Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.