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Hong Kong: Technological giants freeze data demands

Η Google, Facebook and Twitter stop processing data requests from Hong Kong government as they reconsider a new law on safety entered into force on 1 July. Google has stopped all processing activities data just came into force last Wednesday.

"Once the law came into force, we stopped new data requests from the Hong Kong authorities," said a Google spokesman, "and we will continue to look into the details of the new law."

The Twitter also stopped handling government requests from July 1, while Facebook announced the cessation of processing of requests on Monday.

Social media platforms usually collect user information if requested through valid court orders, depending on the legal process in different countries. Now, all companies, even temporarily, must ignore the demands of the Hong Kong government.

The new policies are in line with China's new national security law in Hong Kong and were first proposed in May. Hong Kong has traditionally enjoyed independence from mainland China, but the Chinese central government has sought to impose strong restrictions on Hong Kong in recent months, putting an end to Hong Kong's independence demands and the "one country, two systems" movement. China's willingness to take greater control has led to widespread protests in Hong Kong, which began last year.

In particular, the new security law gives China the power to limit political dissent against the Communist Party, making it illegal to participate in "detachment, overthrow, organize and commit terrorist acts and associate with foreign countries or with external elements that endanger national security." These powers are particularly related to social ones platforms, which may host these most criminalized activities.

Google, the Facebook and Twitter had been banned in China for several years as part of the so-called "Great Wall of Protection," according to which government censors monitored online activities.

The new security law has already forced many opposition political parties in Hong Kong to disperse and is expected to further consolidate Beijing's political disagreement against Hong Kong.

"We believe that freedom of expression is a fundamental human right and supports the right of people to express themselves without fear for their safety or other consequences," a Facebook spokesman said.

Twitter says it is reviewing the new law to assess the effects, adding that many terms of the new law are "vague and without a specific definition." "Like many public interest organizations, political leaders and industry partners, we have serious concerns about both this process and the intent of this law."

Facebook has a process of examining government requests, which takes into account its own policies and local laws as well as international human rights standards, the spokesman added. "We are suspending the re-examination of government requests for user data from Hong Kong pending further evaluation of the National Security Act, including formal human rights and international expertise."

Facebook has offices in China and uses Chinese suppliers to build them hardware, including the Oculus VR and communication devices through it Portal video. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg tried to repair relations with China in the past as he met with Communist Party leaders while in Beijing for a financial forum in 2016. Recently, he raised concerns about China and the new terms he wants to set. "If another nation's platform sets the rules, the course of our nation could be determined by a completely different set of values," Zuckerberg said last year.

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