Facebook And Twitter Push Back Against China, Deny Requests From Hong Kong For User Data

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Chris White Tech Reporter
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Facebook and WhatsApp are suspending requests from Hong Kong officials to review user information after China imposed a law placing heavy regulations on the city’s use of the internet, The Wall Street Journal reported Monday.

WhatsApp is consulting with human rights experts to determine the impact Beijing’s National Security Law has on the company’s users, a company spokeswoman said of the decision, according to a Journal report. Facebook, which is the parent company of WhatsApp, and Twitter are doing the same thing, the report states.

“We have grave concerns regarding both the developing process and the full intention of this law,” a Twitter spokesman told the Daily Caller News Foundation. He did not provide a reason for speaking anonymously, but Twitter’s press office often requests anonymity when speaking to journalists.

The National Security Law reportedly creates a commission in Hong Kong to report rebellious acts, including secession and working with foreign powers, to the Chinese government. The law was released in June before the anniversary of Hong Kong’s return to China from Britain in 1997.

WhatsApp is temporarily stopping such requests “pending further assessment of the impact of the National Security Law, including formal human-rights due diligence and consultations with human-rights experts,” WhatsApp’s spokeswoman said.

SAN JOSE, CA - MAY 01: Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg speaks during the F8 Facebook Developers conference on May 1, 2018 in San Jose, California. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg delivered the opening keynote to the FB Developer conference that runs through May 2. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

SAN JOSE, CA – MAY 01: Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg  (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

“We believe freedom of expression is a fundamental human right and support the right of people to express themselves without fear for their safety or other repercussions,” Facebook said in a press statement to the Journal.

Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, and other platforms operate freely inside of Hong Kong even though all three companies are blocked inside China. (RELATED: Facebook’s Former Security Chief Shames Big Tech, Twitter For Not Banning Chinese-State Media)

Hong Kong citizens have used such platforms to express support for activists demonstrating against Beijing. China clamped down on internet usage in Hong Kong after protesters spent weeks demonstrating against the Chinese Communist Party, which rolled out security measures in May following the demonstrations.

Activists are welcoming Facebook’s pushback. “I think it’s a good sign. They are upholding freedom of speech and user privacy,” Francis Fong, honorary president of the Hong Kong Information Technology Federation trade association, said in a press statement.

Tech companies have a difficult relationship with China, with many of them forced to submit to Chinese censorship in exchange for access to the country’s massive customer base.

Apple, for instance, admitted in 2017 to removing from its app store hundreds of virtual private network apps in China allowing users to avoid censors and in 2018 built a data center in the country to comply with Beijing’s cyber security laws, which give the country the ability to seize data on political dissidents.

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