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Hong Kong: Google, Facebook freeze user data requests

July 7, 2020

The social media giants have taken the step after China enacted a controversial new national security law. Opponents fear the law will be used to crack down on dissenting opinions and stifle free speech.

Hong Kong protest
Image: picture-alliance/AP Photo/V. Yu

Twitter, Facebook and Google are pausing requests from Hong Kong's authorities seeking user data amid growing concerns over China's controversial new national security law.

Facebook, which also owns popular platforms Whatsapp and Instagram, said it was "pausing" requests from the Hong Kong government and police for all of its services "pending further assessment" of the law, the company said in a statement released Monday.

Google and Twitter suspended reviews of government requests for data after the law went into effect last week.

Twitter cited "grave concerns" about the law's implications.

Popular video clip-sharing app TikTok, which is owned by China-based ByteDance, later followed suit, saying that "in light of recent events" it would cease operations in Hong Kong. TikTok has adamantly denied sharing user data with Chinese authorities and said it did not intend to begin honoring such requests. 

Zoom, Telegram, and LinkedIn also said they would suspend compliance with data requests. 

Users scrub accounts

Beijing says the new law is to clamp down on violent pro-democracy protests that have taken place in Hong Kong since last year.

Under the law secession, terrorism, subversion, and "collusion" with foreign powers are banned and carry a maximum sentence of life in prison.


China now has jurisdiction for "serious" security offenses in the semi-autonomous city of Hong Kong.

Google, Twitter and Facebook have continued to operate in Hong Kong, while they are blocked by mainland China's firewall. After the law came into force, many users began scrubbing their social media accounts for any posts that could be deemed sensitive.

'Fundamental human right'

"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," said Facebook in a statement.

"Twitter cares and is committed to protecting the people using our service and their freedom of expression," Twitter told news agency AFP on its decision.

Google has paused production on any new data requests from Hong Kong authorities and will continue to review the details of the new law, the company said in a statement.

Free speech?

Social networks often apply localized restrictions to posts that violate local laws but not their own rules for acceptable speech. In the second half of 2019, Facebook restricted 394 such pieces of content in Hong Kong ,up from eight in the first half of the year, according to its transparency report.

kp,kmm/stb (AFP, Reuters, AP)