TikTok to leave Hong Kong amid security law fears

Protesters against the new security law start a fire to block traffic during a march marking the anniversary of the Hong Kong
Protesters against the new security law start a fire to block traffic during a march marking the anniversary of the Hong Kong handover from Britain to China, Wednesday, July. 1, 2020, in Hong Kong. Hong Kong marked the 23rd anniversary of its handover to China just one day after China enacted a national security law that cracks down on protests in the territory. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)

TikTok has said it will stop operations in Hong Kong in the wake of a sweeping national security law in the former British colony.

The short-form video app’s planned departure from Hong Kong comes amid concerns from various social media platforms and messaging apps including Facebook, WhatsApp, Telegram, Google and Twitter over the possibility of providing user data to Hong Kong authorities.

The social media companies say they are assessing implications of the security law, which prohibits what the Chinese government views as secessionist, subversive or terrorist activities or as foreign intervention in the city’s internal affairs.

In the communist-ruled mainland, foreign social media platforms are blocked by China’s “Great Firewall”.

A TikTok app
There are concerns over the possibility of having to hand over user data to Chinese authorities (Peter Byrne/PA)

Critics see the law as Beijing’s boldest step yet to erase the legal divide between the former British colony and the mainland’s authoritarian Communist Party system.

TikTok said in a statement that it had decided to halt operations “in light of recent events”.

Facebook and its messaging app WhatsApp said in separate statements that they would freeze the review of government requests for user data in Hong Kong, “pending further assessment of the National Security Law, including formal human rights due diligence and consultations with international human rights experts”.

Hong Kong was convulsed with massive, sometimes violent anti-government protests for much of last year as the former British colony’s residents reacted to proposed extradition legislation, since withdrawn, that might have led to some suspects facing trial in mainland Chinese courts.

The new law criminalises some pro-democracy slogans, such as the widely used “Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our time”, which the Hong Kong government says has separatist connotations.

The fear is that the law erodes the special freedoms of the semi-autonomous city, which has operated under a “one country, two systems” framework since China took control in 1997.

That arrangement has allowed Hong Kong’s people freedoms not permitted in mainland China, such as unrestricted internet access and public dissent.

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