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Jul 6, 2020

Facebook, WhatsApp pausing Hong Kong government data requests

Police make an arrest during a protest in Hong Kong on July 1. Photographer: Roy Liu/Bloomberg

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Facebook Inc. won’t process user data requests from the Hong Kong government amid concerns that a new security law could criminalize government protests.

Facebook typically works with law enforcement to follow local laws where the company operates but says it has paused sharing user data with Hong Kong authorities while it conducts a “human-rights” assessment. The pause applies to all Facebook properties, including its core social network, Instagram and WhatsApp.

“We believe freedom of expression is a fundamental human right and support the right of people to express themselves without fear for their safety or other repercussions,” a company spokesperson said in a statement. “We have a global process for government requests and in reviewing each individual request, we consider Facebook’s policies, local laws and international human-rights standards.”

It’s still unclear exactly what types of actions will violate the new law, but police arrested a man last week for brandishing a Hong Kong independence flag. Protesters have filled the city streets to rally against the law.

The U.S. has also revoked some trade benefits with Hong Kong related to sensitive technology. American officials have expressed fears that the new law signals Beijing’s intention to take full control of Hong Kong, which has operated with more autonomy and freedom than cities on the mainland.

Facebook doesn’t operate in China but does in Hong Kong, where it has an office.