“The current Personal Data (Privacy) Ordinance… was not intended to address the doxxing acts committed in recent years,” officials said on Tuesday as a proposal was introduced in Hong Kong’s Legislative Council. The proposal could be formalized into a bill that is voted on and become law by the end of the year. Offenders could face a fine of up to HK$1 million ($128,000) and five years in prison.
As the city has been mired in anti-government protest since mid-2019, Hong Kong’s chief executive Carrie Lam has repeatedly said that releasing personal details of police officers, judges and figures in authority is a problem that creates “disharmony.” She says that the existing Personal Data ordinance does not properly address the problem and that officials have to obtain court injunctions in order to halt doxxing cases.
However, a new law is likely to be controversial.
Pro-democracy supporters say that the Hong Kong government has used the same doxxing tactics to attack its political opponents and journalists. Lam’s predecessor CY Leung has similarly used document releases to attack teachers who he says had taken part in pro-democracy protests.
The proposal unveiled on Tuesday would also give the privacy commissioner significant new powers. These would include the ability to carry out criminal investigations, initiate prosecutions and demand takedowns of documents posted online.
“No doubt the authorities will use this new law to pursue cases of doxxing pro-democracy leaders & journalists just as doggedly as they will those of doxxing police,” said lawyer and pro-democracy campaigner Anthony Dapiran in an ironic post via Twitter.
No doubt the authorities will use this new law to pursue cases of doxxing pro-democracy leaders & journalists just as doggedly as they will those of doxxing police. /s https://t.co/cIw1FC69G1
— Antony Dapiran (@antd) May 11, 2021
On a slightly later timeline, the Hong Kong government is also moving towards creation of an anti-fake-news law.
The National Security law that was introduced in Hong Kong in July last year, already gives authorities sweeping new powers to shackle speech, reporting and the media. That was underlined by police chief Chris Tang on Tuesday when he said: “If these fake news incite hatred and divide society, then people have a chance of committing crimes, including offences related to national security. Then I have to act.”
But the government wants to go further. Lam, said last week that the government was looking at laws to tackle “misinformation, hatred and lies.” The government said that it will study how such laws have worked elsewhere before legislating.
Neighboring Asian countries, Cambodia, Singapore and Malaysia have all introduced anti-fake news laws. In each case, rights groups say that the laws are being used to quash dissent.
That is also a worry in Hong Kong where every societal issue has become politically-polarized and facts are routinely disputed.
Chris Yeung, chairman of the Hong Kong Journalists Association, said that the push for a fake news law may be used by the government to avoid accountability for public discontent. “They will try to redefine the 2019 protests as something that happened because of misleading information, not because of wrong decisions by the chief executive, police misconduct or failed policies,” he recently told the New York Times.