Chief Executive Mrs Carrie Lam:
Members of the Executive Council:
On 4 October 2019, the government implemented mask ban with the use of Emergency Regulation Ordinance and the Chief Executive did not rule out the possibility of passing further regulations to impose restrictions on Internet, online forums and telecommunication platforms.
As the representative of the information technology sector in LegCo, I express my utmost concern to any move to suppress the open and free Internet and access to information. I also would like to issue a strong warning and request the government that under no circumstances should any laws be enacted to threaten the stability and openness of the Internet in Hong Kong.
Right to information, freedom of the press and information are the core values and basic rights of Hong Kong citizens. Article 27 of the Basic Law guarantees those rights and Article 39 states that the provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) as applied to Hong Kong shall remain in force. Article 16 of the Hong Kong Bill of Rights Ordinance also guarantees freedom of opinion and expression.
In early September, twelve international organisations advocating Internet freedom, including Access Now and Digital Rights Watch, have issued a joint open letter to the Chief Executive, calling on the Hong Kong government to refrain from shutting down the Internet and jeopardising the open web in Hong Kong. The coalition mentioned that researches have shown that Internet shutdowns and violence go hand in hand, shutdowns will disrupt the free flow of information and create a cover of darkness that shields human rights abuses from public scrutiny.
Moreover, as several messaging services use cloud-based services, any censorship or disruption of online platforms could create a ripple effect to other services and users who depend on access to data stored in Hong Kong. The statement also pointed out that shutting down or restricting the internet and disrupting communications will not stop protests and the triggers behind them. They only increase societal anxiety, and often hide human rights violations, creating greater difficulty for long-term stability and peaceful dialogue.
These organisations requested the government to: Refrain from considering the invocation of laws that would authorize the restriction or disruption of the internet and other means of communication; Ensure that the internet, including social media, remains open and secure; Publicly declare the commitment to keep the internet on, and to notify the public of any disruptions or other actions impacting the rights of users; and encourage telecommunications and internet service providers to respect human rights through public disclosures on policies and practices impacting users.
Freedom of information is the lifeblood of the ICT industry. An Internet shutdown will be catastrophic to technology firms and to companies in other industries. An open and stable Internet has made Hong Kong the Asia hub in fibre optics telecommunications, with over a hundred of international and local data centres operating in the city. According to a survey by InvestHK in 2018, over 60% of the respondents identified free flow of information as the main reason they established regional offices in Hong Kong. To implement Internet shutdown is to destroy our city’s competitive advantage and reputation as a free city. Imposing any Internet ban will tarnish the image of Hong Kong and damage the confidence of international businesses, and in effect bringing Hong Kong to the level of totalitarian regimes.
Invoking emergency powers to impose internet restrictions will have a far greater impact to the city’s image than the ongoing protests. Abruptly disconnecting the web or selectively blocking some websites could affect a large number of websites and applications of companies, which is no different from destroying Hong Kong’s telecommunications and internet industries.
On 28 August, the Hong Kong Internet Service Providers Association (HKISPA) issued an urgent statement to the Executive Council, which noted that any restrictions on the Internet would be impossible unless we put the whole Internet of Hong Kong behind large scale surveillance firewall. HKISPA’s view is that such restrictions, no matter how slight originally, would start the end of the open Internet of Hong Kong, and would immediately and permanently deter international businesses from positing their businesses and investments in Hong Kong. Any regulation that imposes an Internet ban or censorship would bring irreversible damage towards the uniqueness and value of Hong Kong as a telecommunications hub, which is crucial to the success of Hong Kong as an international financial center.
Speculation about a possible Internet ban is causing distress and this could further weaken Hong Kong’s economy which is already in a precarious state. Media reports suggested the US government might be reviewing an undersea internet cable between Los Angeles and Hong Kong. At this critical juncture, should the Hong Kong government take any measure that could be perceived as destroying free flow of information in Hong Kong, there will be dire consequences on the industry.
Restricting access to the internet or online services is not a solution to Hong Kong’s problems, and will be severely detrimental to the industry, social and economic activities, news reporting and the daily life of citizens. Such an act could also infringe human rights. I hereby request the Hong Kong government to never invoke the powers under ERO to implement any internet blocking, censorship or interference with the operation of telecommunication systems.
Legislative Councillor (Information Technology)
5 October 2019