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Newsdeck

Tech companies suspend processing Hong Kong govt data requests

Riot police in Hong Kong using a colonial-style banner warning about tear gas during protests in 2019 (Photo: EPA-EFE / Jeon Heon-Kyun)

July 6 (Reuters) - Facebook Inc, Google Inc and Twitter Inc suspended processing government requests for user data in Hong Kong, they said on Monday, following China's establishment of a sweeping new national security law for the semi-autonomous city.

By Katie Paul

Facebook, which also owns WhatsApp and Instagram, said in a statement it was “pausing” reviews for all of its services “pending further assessment of the National Security Law.”

Google, a unit of Alphabet Inc, and Twitter said they suspended their reviews of data requests from Hong Kong authorities immediately after the law went into effect last week. Twitter cited “grave concerns” about the law’s implications.

Google said it would continue reviewing Hong Kong government requests for removals of user-generated content from its services. Twitter declined to comment, while Facebook did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Social networks often apply localized restrictions to posts that violate local laws but not their own rules for acceptable speech. Facebook restricted 394 such pieces of content in Hong Kong in the second half of 2019, up from eight in the first half of the year, according to its transparency report.

Tech companies have long operated freely in Hong Kong, a regional financial hub where internet access has been unaffected by the firewall imposed in mainland China, which blocks Google, Twitter and Facebook.

China’s parliament passed the new national security legislation for the semi-autonomous city last week, setting the stage for the most radical changes to the former British colony’s way of life since it returned to Chinese rule 23 years ago.

Some Hong Kong residents said they were reviewing their previous posts on social media related to pro-democracy protests and the security law, and proactively deleting ones they thought would be viewed as sensitive.

The legislation pushed China further along a collision course with the United States, with which it is already in disputes over trade, the South China sea and the coronavirus. (Reporting by Katie Paul in San Francisco; Additional reporting by Akanksha Rana in Bengaluru and Sheila Dang in New York; Editing by Krishna Chandra Eluri and Richard Chang)

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