Foreign media reports that US tech and social media giants threatened to pull out of Hong Kong over fears of a new anti-doxxing law were “out of context,” misleading and confusing to the public, the government said on Tuesday.

The comments came after the Wall Street Journal reported that tech giants including Google, Facebook and Twitter threatened to stop providing services to Hong Kong if the government continued its plan to criminalise behaviours linked to the malicious publishing of private or identifying data.

File photo: Tom Grundy/HKFP.

In a letter written by the Asia Internet Coalition (AIC), an industry group with members including the three companies, the proposed law was called a “completely disproportionate and unnecessary response,” which could harm free expression or make “innocent acts of sharing information online” unlawful.

The coalition also wrote in the letter that “the only way to avoid these sanctions for technology companies would be to refrain from investing and offering their services in Hong Kong, thereby depriving Hong Kong businesses and consumers, whilst also creating new barriers to trade.”

In a response to media enquiries, the AIC clarified that none of its members had plans to leave the city, HK01 reported. The AIC also said that the Wall Street Journal’s report was out of context and “inaccurate.”

‘We are willing to listen’

The Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Bureau, in a statement released on Tuesday, said that AIC’s letter “made no mention of the stance of individual company members nor are there companies planning to retreat from Hong Kong, an issue already clarified by the AIC.”

“We are willing to listen to the views of the AIC and other relevant stakeholders, and will strive to submit the Amendment Bill in relation to doxxing acts to the Legislative Council within this legislative year,” the bureau’s statement read.

Under proposed amendments to the Personal Data Protection Ordinance, which were submitted to the legislature in May, companies which fail to remove doxxing data from their platforms could face a fine of up to HK$100,000, and their employees could be jailed for two years.

Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Erick Tsang. File photo: Candice Chau/HKFP.

In May, Secretary for Constitutional Affairs Erick Tsang also warned that Hong Kong employees of such overseas-based websites could face arrestAnyone found to have committed doxxing may face a fine of up to HK$1 million and five years in prison.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam said on Tuesday that the tech giants’ concerns were unwarranted, and would be proven wrong.

“It is preferable to be able to assuage concerns and worries during the legislative process but sometimes through practice — such as the national security law forum yesterday — we can see that the national security law did not lead to situations as described by people who smeared it. It is the same for the Personal Data (Privacy) Ordinance.”

Candice Chau

Candice is a reporter at Hong Kong Free Press. She previously worked as a researcher at a local think tank. She has a BSocSc in Politics and International Relations from the University of Manchester and a MSc in International Political Economy from London School of Economics.