The Great Firewall of China, vast apparatus that limits internet use in the country, descended on Hong Kong on Tuesday midnight – and it has left the Hong Kong residents scrambling to erase their digital footprints.
The new National Security Law imposition in Hong Kong has led way to an expanded power to police authorities in the country. The HK Government, under jurisdiction of Beijing has given free-hand to the police, enabling them to censor online speech and also coerce internet service providers to release user information and shut off the platform operations.
This takes away one of the most important freedom enjoyed by Hong Kong citizens – a freedom of open internet. This has been a defining difference between the freedom given to Hong Kong residents unlike those in mainland China where there is a complete ban on social media use and major foreign websites like Facebook, Google and Twitter are blocked.
Since the National Security Law was imposed by China last week, there has been a massive disruption in the country with mass arrests under the new law and utter chaos and apprehension among residents. With the extension of law omitting internet freedom has led to people rushing to delete their any digital footprint that can indicate towards any dissent or support of last year protests.“We are already behind the de facto firewall”, tweeted Charles Mok, a pro-democracy leader in the technology sector.
The fact that Hong Kong will be under a similar jurisdiction as in China, where the residents are scrutinized and monitored for what they post online, and also punished for anything against the regime is worrying for the citizens and activists of Hong Kong. Under this Beijing-style internet control system even the internet providers and companies of online platforms are forced to hand over the data of users while censoring them.
Under the new internet law jurisdiction, the individuals and companies can be ordered to remove any pro-democracy or anti-regime post or any content that is deemed threatening to the national security. Any non-compliance can result in fines and imprisonment. Police officials are also permitted to surveil communications and confiscate any device deemed necessary for investigating on grounds of national security.
“The law seems to be building up the Great Firewall locally in Hong Kong. Personal freedom on the internet will be eliminated. If you say something wrong, they can request the service provider to give your IP address or mobile number so they can grab you”, said Charles Low, Chairman of Hong Kong Chapter of the Internet Society.
After the announcement was made regarding law on Monday, Twitter, Telegram, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, WhatsApp, among others have clarified that they wouldn’t release any user information until they study the law and review it in depth. China-based TikTok has announced to shutdown business in Hong Kong entirely.
Mok said that this looks more likely a partial blackout to cutoff access to internet and curb the protests. “It will take at least a few years to build up the wall”, Mok said.
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