US firms in Hong Kong hope for the continuation of free flow of information

Businesses from the US operating in Hong Kong are hoping that the city's government will continue to enable the free flow of information. However, they have been told to reassess their operations and decide if the risks of operating in the city are worth the reward, according to multiple reports. Last Friday, the US government issued an advisory, warning businesses of the growing risks of operating in Hong Kong. The advisory highlighted concerns pertaining to data privacy, transparency and access to critical business information, as well as the risk of breaching US sanctions against Chinese officials and entities.

CNA cited a report from Bloomberg Television where Tara Joseph, president of the American Chamber of Commerce, said that American businesses in the city fear internet curbs in China and hope local authorities will continue to commit to the free flow of information. She added "one of the key attributes of Hong Kong is that you can go onto Google, you can go onto Facebook and any other platform you want versus what you can do in mainland China."

Joseph elaborated that it was unusual for the US government to issue a business advisory. Although businesses in Hong Kong were adapting to legal and political changes, she admitted there are increased risks, adding that companies in Hong Kong are caught in the middle of tensions between the US and China. Meanwhile, the US government's advisory might influence the perspectives of companies from the US not already operating in Hong Kong, but the city remains an important hub for doing business with mainland China, explained Joseph in an Associated Press report

She added that it is important for the Hong Kong government to recognise that and to be open and say the government is going to maintain that free flow of information. In a statement on its website, the American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong said that this city has a crucial role to play as an international business hub and is well aware of an increasingly complicated geopolitical environment and its risks.

"The environment is more complex and challenging [...]  Hong Kong remains a critical and vibrant facilitator of trade and financial flow between the East and West. Hong Kong has one of the best developed infrastructures in Asia, it has an internationally recognised system of commercial law, it has a more open and sophisticated digital infrastructure than many of its Asian peers," it said the statement. It added that for these reasons, the American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong believes that it is important, perhaps more than ever, for it to represent American businesses and to constructively work with public and private stakeholders to build a Hong Kong for the future. 

Meanwhile, global tech companies such as Twitter, Facebook and Alphabet's Google have also earlier reportedly told the Hong Kong government that they might stop offering their services in Hong Kong should the government continue to change data-protection laws. 

The Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Bureau of the Hong Kong government proposed amendments to the city’s data-protection laws in May as it believed that it had to combat doxing, a practice of putting people’s personal information online which could lead to harassment of individuals. This was said to be prevalent during protests in the city in 2019. Details of some officers' home addresses, phone numbers, and children's schools were also exposed online by protesters, while some of whom threatened them and their families online.

Following reports on big tech companies expressing their concern over Hong Kong’s evolving data-protection laws and mulling an exit, Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam has briskly brushed off the concerns. Lam told reporters that the law would be targeted at “illegal doxxing” will “empower the privacy commissioners to investigate and carry out operations. She also likened the new data privacy move to that of national security law which was imposed in Hong Kong last year after the 2019 protests.

Lam also said that the privacy commission would be willing to meet with tech industry players to address their anxieties but added that sometimes effectiveness of a law needs to be demonstrated via implementation.

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