Facebook and its messaging service WhatsApp said Monday they are suspending requests from the Hong Kong government and law enforcement authorities for information on users, explains a new Wall Street Journal report.
The pause will take place “pending further assessment” of a new national security law imposed on Hong Kong by China, and would include “formal human rights due diligence and consultations with human rights experts,” a Facebook company spokesman said in a statement.
“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,” the spokesman said.
In a separate statement, a WhatsApp spokesperson said the app will similarly pause review of government requests for data in the city, adding that WhatsApp is “committed to providing private and secure messaging services to our users in Hong Kong.”
The law imposed last week by Beijing criminalizes secession, subversion, terrorism, and collusion with foreign powers, a sweeping change that critics describe as an attack on freedoms of speech and the press that have long existed in Hong Kong but are prohibited on the Chinese mainland.
The sweeping legislation pushed the semi-autonomous city, which is the regional home for a large number of global financial companies, on to a more authoritarian path.
China is widely recognized for its censorship mechanisms it applies to control citizens. The free internet is practically non-existent since the “Great Firewall” blocks many foreign websites and platforms. Those who try to overcome this barrier to publish things that the government does not like can quickly become an enemy of the nation.
Facebook’s decision follows the announcement from Telegram, another encrypted messaging app and WhatsApp competitor, that it will not disclose Hong Kong users’ identities to the government.