Zoom and LinkedIn on Tuesday joined a growing list of tech companies suspending compliance with data requests from the Hong Kong government, citing concerns over a sweeping new national security law.
A Zoom spokesperson said that the company would actively monitor the situation “including any potential guidance from the US government,” the Hong Kong Free Press reported on Tuesday.
Google, Twitter, WhatsApp, Facebook, and Telegram have also suspended cooperation with the Hong Kong authorities and social media giant Tik Tok said it would pull its popular video sharing platform from app stores in Hong Kong.
Under the law authorities can request a “relevant service provider to provide the identification record or decryption assistance as the case requires.”
New implementation rules released on Monday night grant sweeping powers to police under the national security law, including the ability to seize electronic devices and enter premises without a warrant, and to freeze assets and restrict movement of persons.
The Taiwanese government condemned the enforcement rules, which require “foreign and Taiwan political organizations and agents to provide information on activities concerning Hong Kong.”
“We want to warn both Beijing and Hong Kong authorities not to violate human rights and damage legitimate rights of Taiwan’s agents in Hong Kong,” the Mainland Affairs Council, Taiwan’s top government agency on policy dealings with Beijing, said in a statement.
“Hong Kong authorities should guarantee that Taiwan’s agents there won’t be politically interfered with,” the Council added, and warned the new rules were prompting panic among Taiwanese organizations operating in Hong Kong.
Commonwealth law protecting privacy and freedom of speech, and precluding censorship have long separated the former British colony from mainland China, where tech companies must abide by the country’s censorship and privacy norms.
With the passing of the new law, these demarcations could be jeopardized under the pretext of national security.
Google and Twitter said they had suspended compliance immediately after the law took effect last week, while Apple said it required requests to be submitted to the US Department of Justice to ensure legal conformance.
Facebook said its decision would be reassessed pending “formal human rights due diligence and consultations with human rights experts”.
Signal, a secure messaging app that does not store user data, has surged in popularity, topping Google’s play store charts in Hong Kong since the law’s enactment.
Signal said on Twitter that it would have made similar announcements, “but we never started turning over user data to Hong Kong police. Also, we don’t have user data to turn over.”
Earlier in the day, Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam declined to address tech giants’ concerns about the new law during a press conference.
Lam also failed to give assurances to journalists after concerns were raised over the vagueness of offences relating to the press.
Asked to confirm that the press would retain the right to cover any subject, Lam said that if journalists could give her a “100 per cent guarantee that they will not commit any offences, then I can do the same.”
“It is not a question of me standing here to give you a guarantee on what you may or may not do,” she added.
In Washington, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo charged in a statement that “the Chinese Communist Party’s destruction of free Hong Kong continues.”
“Local authorities – in an Orwellian move – have now established a central government national security office, started removing books critical of the CCP from library shelves, banned political slogans, and are now requiring schools to enforce censorship,” he added.
“The United States condemns Beijing’s repeated failure to live up to its obligations under the Sino-British Joint Declaration, and these latest assaults on the rights and freedoms of the people of Hong Kong,” Pompeo said.
Hong Kong was guaranteed autonomy under the “one country, two systems” framework until 2047, fifty years after the territory was returned to China from British rule in 1997. However, many believe that the national security law has voided the framework completely.