Watching 👁️ : Hong-kong Updates - China scares the world.

Our ‘Watching’ series focuses on monitoring the evolution of laws and government actions on privacy and communications security issues.

Today we are focusing our attention on an alarming situation currently underway in Hong Kong. A few days ago, the government announced significant changes in legislation. This “update” corresponds to a kind of judicial response to the demonstrations that have been raging for several months within the territory.

As a reminder, the demonstrations that have lasted for more than 18 months oppose the extradition of political opponents, allowing the Chinese government to arrest demonstrators even in the territory of Hong Kong.

This new law is another step forward for China :

In short, it falls under the category of “national security” and allows the arrest of anyone who “pronounces foreign ideas”, or makes claims outside Chinese policy. For example, to publicly criticize the government, displaying various symbols of resistance, such as foreign flags, or demanding freedom of expression and democracy.

And this in all possible forms, whether on social networks, in the street, or private conversations.

Therefore, this law drastically reduces freedom of expression on the spot, with sentences ranging from 10 years to life imprisonment, and creates a climate of repression and intimidation.

Hong Kong: 2 million people protesting in Hong Kong on June 16 2019

Whereas since 1997 China had undertaken to grant Hong Kong a “high degree of autonomy” for fifty years, particularly in the judicial, legislative and executive spheres, it is surprising to see a reversal here.

No Hong Kong legislator or institution has, of course, been consulted before its implementation.

By enforcing this law, Beijing is also giving a signal to the international community, sending a clear message: China is not afraid to overstep laws and agreements even outside its territory, and does not care about the image it might give of itself through such actions. The head of the Hong Kong executive announced yesterday, Tuesday, July 7, that he would rigorously apply this new law.

Messaging in HK ✉️ 🔐

Following this announcement, WhatsApp and Telegram announced on July 6 that they would suspend their cooperation with the Hong Kong authorities. The two companies that offer centralized messaging services based on E2E encryption officially have no access to the messages' contents. On the other hand, they do allow access to a set of metadata in exceptional cases, particularly in connection with the fight against terrorism or crime.

As this new law is implemented, these companies could quickly find themselves forced to provide the Chinese government with this set of metadata to assist in the arrest of demonstrators and opponents of the regime.

They have therefore jointly announced that they would put this cooperation on hold pending advice from human rights experts.

For their part, Twitter, Facebook, and Google confirmed on Monday that they were no longer responding to requests for information about their users from the Hong Kong government and authorities out of respect for freedom of expression.

For his part, Tik Tok took a more radical stance by withdrawing entirely from Hong Kong territory until further notice. Its spokesman announced: “In light of recent events, we’ve decided to discontinue the TikTok app in Hong Kong.”

Recommendation :

What recommendations do we give to journalists, activists for the safety of their communications in this context?

Until the Berty application is officially available, we recommend you to use Signal, which is open source and does not, to our knowledge, pass on any metadata to anyone.

The next weeks and months could be very intense for activists, and we recommend all of you the utmost caution and rigor in your communication methods.

We will continue to monitor any news on this subject. Stay safe.

Sources : 🔎 📰

Law Extract : Implementation Rules for Article 43 of the Law of the People’s Republic of China safeguarding National Security in the Hong Kong Special Administrative RegionL.N. 139 of 2020

HK Freepress : Hong Kong security law: Police handed power to do warrantless searches, freeze assets, intercept comms, control internet

HK FreePress : Exclusive: Telegram to temporarily refuse data requests from Hong Kong courts amid security law ‘terrorism’ fears

The New-York Times : In Hong Kong, a Proxy Battle Over Internet Freedom Begins

Nouvel Obs : Hong-Kong : Publier sur un réseau social peut désormais être un crime

Le Monde : L’inauguration d’un Bureau de Sécurité Nationale à Hong-Kong

The Guardian’s : Facebook and WhatsApp pause Hong Kong user data requests

Time : Facebook, WhatsApp Block Government Requests for User Data in Hong Kong

Le Monde Hongkong va « appliquer vigoureusement » la loi sur la sécurité nationale, TikTok se retire

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