Messaging app Telegram has told HKFP that it will temporarily refuse data requests from the Hong Kong authorities until an international consensus emerges over recent political changes. It comes as Hongkongers abandon certain messaging and social media platforms following the enactment of the controversial national security law last month.

Photo: Ross Richardson.

“We understand the importance of protecting the right to privacy of our Hong Kong users under these circumstances,” Mike Ravdonikas of Telegram told HKFP on Sunday. “Accordingly, Telegram 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.”

Ravdonikas added that the firm has not disclosed any data to the Hong Kong authorities in the past.

The messaging app’s privacy terms state that they will cooperate with authorities over matters related to terrorism: “If Telegram receives a court order that confirms you’re a terror suspect, we may disclose your IP address and phone number to the relevant authorities.”

Terrorism is defined in Article 24 of the new law as “to participate, plan, implement or participate in implementing acts that cause or intend to cause serious societal harm – with the aim of threatening the Chinese or Hong Kong governments, an international organisation or the public.” However, rights NGOs have said that the acts of terror in question are broad and even encompass acts of vandalism against public property.

According to the legislation, acts of terror can include serious personal violence; using explosives, arson or poison, radioactive materials or diseases; destroying transportation and power facilities (among others); serious interference or destruction to infrastructure; or serious harm to public health and safety using other dangerous means.

The secure messaging app Signal has been rising in the app charts and was at number one on the Android store over the weekend.

In May, Chief Executive Carrie Lam said the police may be given more powers to monitor social media to tackle “false and malicious information” and “rumours.” Meanwhile, the new security law will allow for surveillance of those deemed a national security threat.

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Tom is the editor-in-chief and co-founder of Hong Kong Free Press. He has a BA in Communications & New Media from Leeds University and an MA in Journalism from the University of Hong Kong. He has contributed to the BBC, Euronews, Quartz, Global Post and others.