WhatsApp has suspended its processing of requests for user data from Hong Kong law enforcement agencies, in response to China’s imposition of a new national security law on the city, reports The Wall Street Journal.
The company is “pausing” such reviews “pending further assessment of the impact of the National Security Law, including formal human rights due diligence and consultations with human rights experts,” a WhatsApp spokeswoman said in response to a Wall Street Journal query on Monday.
The decision by WhatsApp comes after China fast-tracked legislation that allows local authorities to supervise and regulate the city’s previously unrestricted internet. The controversial new law, which took effect on Tuesday, criminalizes acts that were previously considered protected speech under Hong Kong law.
As the report notes, Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram, and Twitter have operated freely in Hong Kong for many years, allowing residents of the semi-autonomous metropolitan area to express political views online, outside the grip of China’s “Great Firewall” that restricts internet use on the mainland. The fear is that the new law brings Hong Kong another step closer to the authoritarian digital censorship that ringfences mainland internet users.
Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram have been blocked in China for years, with the country’s government favoring home grown alternative services that it can more easily regulate. Encrypted messaging service Telegram was also blocked inside China after it became popular with the country’s human rights lawyers, while several domestic VPNs – which are commonly used to evade censorship and access services abroad – were shut down after authorities said they were unauthorized to run.
Western powers have condemned the imposition of the new security law in Hong Kong, and the United Kingdom considers it to be a “clear and serious” violation of the Joint Declaration that was signed between the two countries when the former colony was handed back to China in 1997 after more than 150 years of British rule.
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