Facebook has confirmed it has suspended processing demands for user data from Hong Kong authorities following the introduction of a new Beijing-imposed national security law.
A spokesperson for the social networking giant told TechCrunch it will “pause” the processing of data demands until it can better understand the new national security law, “including formal human rights due diligence and consultations with human rights experts.” The spokesperson added: “We believe freedom of expression is a fundamental human right and support the right of people to express themselves without fear for their safety or other repercussions.”
Facebook said its suspension will also apply to WhatsApp, which it owns.
News of the suspension was first reported by The Wall Street Journal.
Tech giants have long seen Hong Kong as a friendly outpost in Asia as a semi-independent city nation state, albeit under the control of Beijing under its “one country, two systems” principles. Hong Kong has far greater freedoms from mainland China, where government surveillance and censorship is widespread.
But the new national security law, imposed unilaterally by the Chinese government, effectively undermines any protections Hong Kong nationals had. The law removes provisions for authorities to require a court order before it can demand data from internet companies, like Facebook.
One industry leader, who chairs the Hong Kong Internet Service Providers Association, said internet providers would have little choice but to comply with the new law.
The move is likely to put Facebook — and other tech giants that follow in its footsteps — on notice with Beijing, which already has sweeping bans against some Western tech giants, like Facebook and Twitter, on the mainland. WhatsApp is highly popular in Hong Kong, alongside Telegram and WeChat.
Facebook’s transparency report shows the social media giant received 384 demands for user data from Hong Kong authorities last year, the latter half of the year saw Facebook comply with fewer than half of all demands.
Messaging app Telegram also reportedly said Monday that it will no longer process data requests from Hong Kong authorities.