Social media giant Facebook will temporarily be withholding user data and other information from Hong Kong authorities as it conducts its own assessment and review of the newly passed security law in the city. The company announced it would come up with a decision on whether or not it would lift the suspension once it completes its assessment of the situation.
In a published statement, Facebook explained that processing requests for user data by Hong Kong law enforcement will temporarily be paused as it tried to determine the impact of the recently imposed National Security Law. The company added that it will still need to consult with human rights experts as part of its human rights due diligence before taking any further action.
Facebook reiterated its stance against the suppression of freedom of expression. The company stated that every human's fundamental rights have to be protected and it fully supports the right of people to freely express themselves without fear of being prosecuted or their life threatened.
During its review, user data for Facebook users and users of its messaging app WhatsApp will be withheld from Hong Kong authorities. Twitter also confirmed this week that it will be following in Facebook's footsteps and pausing all requests made by Hong Kong authorities for user data and other information.
The search engine giant Google also reportedly already halted all data requests made from Hong Kong immediately after the law had taken effect. Google is currently in the process of reviewing the full details of the law and its possible impact on its user's privacy and freedoms.
TikTok, the short-form video app, also announced that it would pull out of the Hong Kong market within days, according to a Reuters report.
TikTok was designed so it could not be accessed by mainland China, part of a strategy to appeal to a more global audience, Reuters reported. Hong Kong is a small, loss-making market for the company, one source familiar with the matter told Reuters.
Social media platforms often provide relevant authorities with selective user information in cases such as criminal investigations. In its transparency report, Facebook revealed that it had received around 241 information requests from Hong Kong authorities last year.
The move made by the US tech giants comes after the imposition of the controversial law, which officially criminalizes acts of subversion, terrorism, secession, and collusion with foreign governments. Hong Kong residents found to be guilty of the aforementioned acts can be arrested and sent to mainland China for prosecution.
Critics of the new law have pointed out its vaguely defined rules, which can be used to punish both foreigners and locals residing in Hong Kong who are found guilty. Unlike mainland China, the internet in the city of Hong Kong is largely uncensored. Residents have full access to social media platforms and online search engines, most of which are banned on the mainland.