HONG KONG (BLOOMBERG) – Hong Kong has strengthened its laws banning the publication of personal information to harass people, or “doxxing”, the latest move in a security campaign that has spooked tech giants in the Asian financial centre.
Disclosing data without consent that could harm a person or their family now carries a maximum five-year prison sentence and potential HK$1 million (S$174,400) fine under amendments to the personal data privacy Bill passed by the legislature on Wednesday (Sept 29).
The updates also gave the city’s privacy commissioner far-reaching powers to search a suspect’s premises and electronic devices.
The new anti-doxxing measures are part of series of moves that have limited what Hong Kong residents can say, do or post online, including the enactment of a national security law banning speech deemed secessionist and a system of vetting candidates for public office for patriotic behaviour.
The Bill has raised concern about Internet censorship in the former British colony, which was guaranteed freedom of speech until at least 2047 under a “one country, two systems” framework.
That contrasts with mainland China, where foreign social media and online search services are blocked, and news organisations and filmmakers face tight restrictions.
In June, the Asia Internet Coalition, representing tech giants including Facebook Inc, Alphabet Inc’s Google and Twitter Inc, raised concerns in a letter on the proposed amendments, including threatening the ability of its members to provide services in the city.
Mr Eric Tsang, Hong Kong’s secretary for constitutional and mainland affairs, said in July that the Bill “struck a suitable balance between protecting privacy and protecting freedom of speech”.
He added that “lawful news activities would not be affected at all”, but said the government could not exempt media organisations from the legislation.
The authorities sought to crack down on the publishing of personal details about police officers and other public officials after pro-democracy activists used the tactic during mass unrest in 2019.
In October that year, a Hong Kong court granted the government’s request to ban the publication of officers’ personal information.
On Monday, a judge handed down a 45-month prison sentence to a former government clerk who took the personal details of 215 public officials, including judges and police officers, without authorisation to release on social media platform Telegram.
That was the longest doxxing prison sentence imposed by a court so far, Privacy Commissioner Ada Chung said in a statement, adding: “The cyber world is not beyond the law.”
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