Facebook and WhatsApp pause Hong Kong user data requests

Facebook and WhatsApp pause Hong Kong user data requests

14:57 - Social media sites suspend process as they assess impact of new national security law.

Facebook and WhatsApp have said they have “paused” the processing of government requests for user data in Hong Kong. The encrypted messenger Telegram has also halted cooperation with law enforcement.

WhatsApp said it was pausing such reviews “pending further assessment of the impact of the national security law, including formal human rights due diligence and consultations with human rights experts”.

Its parent company, Facebook, followed soon afterwards. “We believe freedom of expression is a fundamental human right and support the right of people to express themselves without fear for their safety or other repercussions,” a spokesperson said. “We have a global process for government requests, and in reviewing each individual request, we consider Facebook’s policies, local laws and international human rights standards.”

Hong Kong has enjoyed unrestricted internet access, unlike mainland China, where the likes of Google, Twitter and Facebook are blocked.

The decision by the social networks to suspend law enforcement cooperation suggests they see themselves on a collision course with the Chinese state following the passage of the national security law.

Telegram said it would not 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”.

China’s parliament passed the national security law for Hong Kong last week, setting the stage for the most radical changes to the former British colony’s way of life since it returned to Chinese rule 23 years ago.

The sweeping legislation pushed the semi-autonomous city, which is the regional home for a large number of global financial companies, on to a more authoritarian path.

Some Hong Kong residents said they were reviewing their previous posts on social media related to pro-democracy protests and the security law, and deleting ones they thought would be viewed as sensitive.

Apple is one company on the other side of the trend. Unlike Facebook and Google, the company has a large customer base in mainland China, as well as substantial manufacturing operations, and has had to tread carefully in its relationship with Beijing as a result.

In October its chief executive, Tim Cook, was dragged into the dispute after a mapping app used by protesters was removed from the App Store in Hong Kong. Cook said it had been removed due to “credible information from the Hong Kong cybersecurity and technology crime bureau, as well as from users in Hong Kong, that the app was being used maliciously to target individual officers for violence” – a claim protesters disputed.

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