China's Great Firewall partially erected in Hong Kong as Article 43 takes effect

Effective July 7, Hong Kong residents no longer be able to enjoy online freedoms they hold dear

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Security law spells gloomy forecast for Hong Kong's internet freedom. 

Security law spells gloomy forecast for Hong Kong's internet freedom.  (Taiwan News photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — The implementation rules for Article 43 of the new national security law imposed on Hong Kong by Beijing were announced on Monday (July 6) and entered into force the next day, empowering the authorities to request that platform service providers remove or restrict access to messages online deemed to endanger national security.

From July 7, Hong Kong residents will no longer be able to enjoy the online freedoms they hold dear. The new rules stipulate that the police can order publishers, platforms, or network service providers to remove or to block access to messages they unilaterally decide pose a threat to national security. In cases where these are not immediately deleted, the police can get a warrant to seize the relevant electronic devices and forcibly decrypt the offending messages.

The draconian penalties for individuals and organizations who violate the rules are in place too. For instance, if someone who published a message believed to endanger national security fails to comply with the police order to remove it without a reasonable excuse, that person could face a fine of HK$100,000 (US$12,900) and imprisonment for one year. If a service provider refuses to cooperate, it could be slapped with a fine of $100,000 and imprisonment for six months.

Article 43 also substantially expands the authorities' surveillance powers to detect "harmful" messages. Applications for covert surveillance and the interception of communications can only be authorized by the chief executive, without court approval or a warrant, and "less intrusive covert surveillance" operations can be carried out by officers handpicked by the chief executive.

Facebook, WhatsApp, and Telegram said in separate statements on Monday that they would deny requests for user data from the Hong Kong government. Telegram said it has never shared any data with the Hong Kong authorities and pledged not to process such requests until the international community reaches a consensus on the political landscape there, citing the importance of protecting Hong Kong users' right to privacy.

There are rules demanding that foreign and Taiwanese political organizations provide information about their activities in Hong Kong, assets, and grants. Those who fail to comply will face a fine of HK$100,000 and imprisonment for six months, with heavier penalties — an HK$100,000 fine and a two-year sentence — to be imposed on those providing false or incomplete information.

Switzerland-based Proton Technologies, which owns secure email service ProtonMail and VPN service provider ProtonVPN, said the new regulations will immediately curb media and internet freedom in Hong Kong and encourage the kind of self-censorship that all other Chinese citizens face.

The company observed that many people living in Hong Kong seem to have seen the day coming, saying that, since the announcement in May that Beijing would be imposing a new security law on Hong Kong, its free VPN app reached 3rd place in the local app store, with a 3,000 percent increase in downloads.