Hong Kong police will be authorised to conduct searches at private properties without a warrant, restrict suspects’ movements, freeze their assets, intercept communications and require internet service providers to remove information, as the city’s leader handed more powers to the force for implementing the new national security law.
On Monday night, the government gazetted the details of Article 43 of the controverisal legislation, which criminalises secession, subversion, terrorism and foreign interference. It came after the first meeting of the Committee for Safeguarding National Security of the HKSAR, chaired by Chief Executive Carrie Lam.
According to the latest legal document, an officer of – or above – the rank of assistant commissioner can authorise officers to enter premises without a warrant under “urgent” situations to search for evidence. Police can also apply for a warrant to demand suspected violators of the national security law to surrender their travel documents to restrict them from leaving the territory.
The secretary for security may issue a written notice to freeze assets if they have “reasonable grounds” to suspect the property is related to an offence endangering national security. Additionally, the secretary for justice may apply for a restraining order or charging order to the Court of First Instance in order to confiscate or forfeit such property.
Meanwhile, the commissioner of police is to be given powers to control the dissemination of information online, when they have “reasonable grounds” to suspect such information may lead to national security crimes. Such enforcement may require a relevant publisher, platform service provider, hosting service provider or network service providers to remove information that the authorities deem a threat to national security. They may also restrict or stop anyone from accessing to such platforms.
If the information publisher fails to cooperate immediately, police may apply for a warrant to seize the electronic devices involved and remove that information. They may also face a fine of HK$100,000 and one year of imprisonment for failing to cooperate with the authorities.
Police may require service providers to provide relevant identification records or decryption assistance. Any service provider who fails to comply with the requests is liable upon conviction to a fine of HK$100,000 and six months behind bars.
On Monday, Facebook and its messaging service WhatsApp said they were suspending requests from the Hong Kong government and law enforcement authorities for user information. Messaging app Telegram also told HKFP a day before that it will temporarily refuse data requests from the city’s authorities until there is international consensus over the ongoing political changes.
According to the new stipulations, the head of the police force may – with the permission of the security chief – ask international political organisations and those based in Taiwan to hand over information, including data on their activities in Hong Kong, personal data, sources of income and expenditure. Any group that does not act in accordance with the demands of the authorities faces a fine of HK$100,000 and six months in jail.
Upon approval of the chief executive, police may intercept communications and conduct “less intrusive” covert surveillance. The authorities must ensure that any secret operations meet the criteria of “proportionality” and “necessity,” the document said.
Last week, Hong Kong media law expert Sharron Fast has told HKFP that Article 43 of the national security law was an “empowering” move to give law enforcement authorities “unfettered” power to search electronic devices. She said that, under such provisions, journalists may have to step up their digital security measures, as well as protection of sources.
Hong Kong police have arrested ten people so far on suspicion of violating the security law. The arrests were made last Wednesday, when thousands of Hongkongers defied a police ban to march in Causeway Bay and Wan Chai, as the city marked 23 years since its handover to China.
Officers took DNA samples from the suspected violators, claiming secession is a serious crime. But a volunteer lawyer has slammed the move as “unnecessary” and “disproportional.”
A male motorcyclist became the first person to be charged for inciting to commit secession and terrorist activity last week. He appeared in court on Monday and his case has been adjourned to October. His application for bail was denied.