Facebook suspends Hong Kong government’s access to user data

6 Jul 2020

A student protest in Hong Kong. Image: © Martin Bertrand/Stock.adobe.com

Facebook has said that ‘pending future assessment’ it will not allow Hong Kong’s authorities to access its user data.

Following the introduction of a new national security law in Hong Kong, Facebook said it is temporarily suspending the special administrative region’s law enforcement from seeking access to user data.

The law introduced last week was imposed by the Chinese government in Beijing, which criminalises calls for cession and collusion with foreign powers within Hong Kong. According to statements from Facebook and WhatsApp to The Wall Street Journal, the company is “pausing” all processing of user data requests from Hong Kong authorities “pending further assessment of the impact of the national security law, including formal human rights due diligence and consultations with human rights experts”.

Messaging platform Telegram also announced that it will suspend user data requests from Hong Kong authorities. Speaking to Hong Kong Free Press, Telegram’s head of marketing Mike Ravdonikas said: “We understand the importance of protecting the right to privacy of our Hong Kong users under these circumstances. 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.”

He added that no data has yet been disclosed to Hong Kong authorities.

Clamping down on social media

Since the introduction of the law, a number of social media users have taken to deleting their social media accounts fearing that they could be prosecuted.

In May, Hong Kong’s chief executive Carrie Lam said that the police may be given greater powers to monitor social media.

This, she said, would be used to tackle “false and malicious information” amid a “high volume of online speculation and rumours”.

Previous pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong saw a surge in demand for apps that could make it harder for the government to censor or eavesdrop on conversations. Among such apps was Bridgefy which allows users to post public broadcasts to anyone within range, regardless of whether they are in a user’s contact list or not. Using Bluetooth, Bridgefy users can send messages to one another without the need for an internet connection.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic