Facebook, WhatsApp and Telegram Block Gov't Requests on Hong Kong User Data

Though social platforms have yet to be blocked in Hong Kong, users have begun scrubbing their accounts and deleting pro-democracy posts as the National Security Law goes into effect

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An anti-national security law protester holds a banner reading 'Chinese communist party is shameless, break the promises' during a march at the anniversary of Hong Kong's handover to China from Britain in Hong Kong,  July 1, 2020.
An anti-national security law protester holds a banner reading 'Chinese communist party is shameless, break the promises' during a march at the anniversary of Hong Kong's handover to China from BritaiCredit: Tyrone Siu/Reuters

Facebook, WhatsApp and Telegram will deny law enforcement requests for user data in Hong Kong as they assess the impact of a new national security law enacted last week.

Facebook and its messaging app WhatsApp said in separate statements Monday that they would freeze the review of government requests for user data in Hong Kong, “pending further assessment of the National Security Law, including formal human rights due diligence and consultations with international human rights experts.”

The policy changes follow the roll out last week of laws that prohibit what Beijing views as secessionist, subversive, or terrorist activities, as well as foreign intervention in the city’s internal affairs. The legislation criminalizes some pro-democracy slogans like the widely used “Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our time,” which the Hong Kong government has deemed has separatist connotations.

The fear is that the new law erodes the freedoms of the semi-autonomous city, which operates under a ‘one country, two systems’ framework after Britain handed it over to China in 1997. That framework gives Hong Kong and its people freedoms not found in mainland China, such as unrestricted internet access.

Spokesman Mike Ravdonikas said Monday that Telegram understands “the importance of protecting the right to privacy of our Hong Kong users.” Telegram has been used broadly to spread pro-democracy messages and information about the protests in Hong Kong.

“Telegram has never shared any data with the Hong Kong authorities in the past and 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 said.

Social platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and WhatsApp have operated freely in Hong Kong, while they are blocked in the mainland under China’s “Great Firewall.”

Though social platforms have yet to be blocked in Hong Kong, users have begun scrubbing their accounts and deleting pro-democracy posts out of fear of retribution. That retreat has extended to the streets of Hong Kong as well.

Many of the shops and stores that publicly stood in solidarity with protesters have removed the pro-democracy sticky notes and artwork that adorned their walls.

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