Big technology companies including Facebook, Twitter and Google have threatened to shut down their services in Hong Kong if the city goes ahead with a new data law.
Hong Kong legislators plan to introduce new regulations designed to prevent “doxing”, in which people’s personal information such as their address or contact details are published online.
Doxing occurred during Hong Kong protests in 2019 and has become a target of the city’s government.
Tech firms have now warned that proposed penalties directed at social media businesses over doxing could force them to disable their services in Hong Kong.
In a letter sent to Hong Kong’s Privacy Commissioner for Personal Data, the Asia Internet Coalition (AIC) association that represents a group of technology businesses called on Hong Kong to tweak its proposed anti-doxing laws.
Legislation that would impose fines of up to £92,000 and prison sentences of up to five years on employees of social media firms if people used their sites to dox others could result in services leaving Hong Kong entirely, the letter warned.
Jeff Paine, the association’s managing director, wrote: “The only way to avoid these sanctions for technology companies would be to refrain from investing and offering their services in Hong Kong, thereby depriving Hong Kong businesses and consumers, whilst also creating new barriers to trade.
“The possibility of prosecuting subsidiary employees will create uncertainties for businesses and affect Hong Kong’s development as an innovation and technology hub.”
The Singapore-based association represents tech companies including Facebook, Twitter and Google as well as Apple, Amazon, LinkedIn and Airbnb.
The AIC also expressed concern over remarks made by Hong Kong’s legislative council in May when it suggested that websites could be shut down if they frequently host doxing information.
“Shutting down or blocking the access of websites in their entirety would be a disproportionate response and may create unintended consequences,” Mr Paine wrote.
Last year, Facebook, Twitter and Google suspended processing government requests from Hong Kong for user data following the establishment of the city’s sweeping national security law.
Viral video app TikTok halted its operations in Hong Kong entirely last year and continues to block access to users in the city.