Internet freedom activists in Hong Kong are questioning a provisional order issued by the Supreme Court that prohibits anyone from publishing and reproducing any information that promotes violence, including LIHGK and Telegram.
The petition for the order was presented by the secretary of justice to the Supreme Court on October 31. Request the Court prevent:
(a) Wilfully disseminating, circulation, publishing or re-publishing on any internet-based platform or medium (including but not limited to LIHKG and Telegram) any material or information that promotes, encourages or incites the use of threat of violence, intended or likely to cause (i) bodily injury to any person unlawfully within Hong Kong; or (ii) damage to any property unlawfully within Hong Kong.
(b) Assisting, causing, counseling, procuring, instigating, inciting, aiding, abetting or authorizing others to commit any of the aforesaid acts or participate in any of the aforesaid acts.
a) deliberately disseminate, circulate, publish or reproduce on any internet platform or media (such as LIHKG and Telegram, among others) material or information that promotes, encourages or incites the use of violent threats with the intention of causing physical injuries ( i) to any person within Hong Kong; or (ii) damage any property in Hong Kong.
b) to assist, cause, advise, seek, instigate, incite, contribute, support or authorize others to commit or participate in any of those acts.
Judge Russell Adam Coleman of the Supreme Court granted the provisional order for two weeks until the formal hearing for the request is held on November 15.
However, internet freedom groups worry that the order could have a crippling effect on freedom of expression online in Hong Kong.
The Hong Kong Chapter internet society launched a campaign to raise funds and file a judicial review against the order. The organization expressed concern that the order could force internet service providers to censor or restrict access to some pages.
The order would not only affect the right of individual users to freedom of expression, it would also oblige internet service providers or platform operators to filter or suppress political content. Section (a) of the order could be used with internet users who disseminate protest information online, while section (b) would affect internet service providers and platform operators who could be accused of “helping , support and authorize ”its users to disseminate this information. This was explained by the Hong Kong Chapter:
The injunction provisions are overbroad, anyone who issues comments on police brutality and criticism on the government could potentially be construed to be “inciting, aiding or abetting” others to commit unlawful acts. The injunction can even go further to include anyone who simply ‘like’, share and respond to the comments. It is possible that with the use of the injunction, the government may force online platforms and Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to censor and restrict access to websites and applications, or request private information of online users who are aiding in the dissemination of the online content. The injunction will not only affect free speech online, it will destroy Hong Kong’s open and free Internet, as well as free flow of information, if the government seeks to invoke more power to censor the Internet.
The provisions of the provisional order are too broad, any comments on police brutality and criticism of the Government could be interpreted as “inciting, helping or supporting” others to commit illegal acts. The order can even go further to include anyone who simply “likes”, disseminates and answers the comments. The order could even force online platforms and internet service providers (ISPs) to censor or restrict access to websites and applications, or request private information from users that help disseminate online content. The order would not only affect free expression online, it would destroy Hong Kong's free and open internet, and also the free flow of information, if the government tried to invoke more powers to censor the internet.
Currently, internet service providers and platform operators in Hong Kong are required to block or suppress illegal content that includes information that infringes copyright and personal privacy. While these words have clear definitions, the order encompasses “information that promotes, encourages and encourages the use of the threat of violence” and that description could be interpreted as information about protest in general.
If overseas platform operators do not comply with the authorities' notices, they could be accused of “inciting” the distribution of illegal materials and local internet service providers would be forced to completely block platforms such as Telegram and the forum. LIHKG in Reddit, staying outside of Hong Kong. Therefore, many believe that the order aims to block those platforms because they are the largest channel of information by protesters.
Reports on the Government's plans to consolidate its control over the Internet continued to circulate since August 2019. Returning to August 28, the association of Internet service providers in Hong Kong warned that “any minimum internet restriction would only result in more restrictions “And would have put” Hong Kong Internet after a great firewall. ” In its publication, the association added:
Therefore, any such restrictions, however slight originally, would start the end of the open Internet of Hong Kong, and would immediately and permanently determine international businesses from positing their businesses and investments in Hong Kong.
Therefore, any restriction, however insignificant in principle, would initiate the end of Hong Kong's free internet, and immediately and permanently, would deter international entrepreneurs from establishing their business and investments in Hong Kong.
In early September, the #KeepItOn coalition also sent an open letter to the Hong Kong Government against any policy that could harm the free internet:
Shutting down or restricting the internet and disrupting communications will not stop protests nor remove 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.
Suspending or restricting the Internet and interrupting communications will not stop protests or the motivations behind it. They only increase social anxiety, and often hide human rights violations, which creates enormous difficulties for lasting stability and peaceful dialogue.
In early October, the chief executive, Carrie Lam, invoked her ordinance on emergency regulations to apply a law that prevents the use of masks. At the same time, Ip Kwok-him, a politician in favor of Beijing and a member of the Executive Council, said the government did not rule out the application of a new law to limit the internet as a means to curb protests.
Although Carrie Lam stressed that it would not pass laws to prohibit internet access, the Superior Court order could empower authorities to force internet service providers to block certain platforms and websites.
The Hong Kong Chapter noted that the current order could create an environment of fear and deter citizens and protesters from speaking:
If the situation remains unchecked, the police could potentially use the injunction to persecute more innocent and law abiding citizens who have the courage to speak up against the government and injustice.
If the situation remains uncontrolled, the police could use the order to prosecute more innocent and law-abiding citizens who have the courage to speak against the Government and injustices.
Internet Society International also expressed deep concern about the order:
The order will have the unintended consequence of interfering with the normal operations of the local and global Internet, jeopardizing the smooth delivery of Internet services in Hong Kong and its neighbors… This outcome would directly endanger the lives and livelihoods of many Hong Kong people, and will have serious repercussions on Hong Kong's economy and its links to the global digital economy.
The order will have the unwanted consequence of interfering with the normal operations of global and local internet, which threatens the proper provision of internet services in Hong Kong and its neighbors … It could directly endanger life and the media of subsistence of many hongkoneses and would have serious repercussions in the economy of Hong Kong and its links with the global digital economy.