As Beijing Continues To Creep Into Hong Kong, Internet Censorship Begins

from the democracy-on-decline dept

As we've written about recently, Beijing's creep into Hong Kong control has turned into nearly a dash as of late. What started with July's new "national security" law that allowed the mainland to meddle in Hong Kong's affairs led to arrests of media members in July, the expulsion and arrest of pro-democracy politicians in November, and then expanded arrests of members of the public who have said the wrong things in January.

And as that mad dash to tighten its grip before a new American administration takes office continues, Beijing appears to be starting the process of censoring the internet in Hong Kong as well. In a move likely designed to make this all look reasonable, the first reports revolve around a website used to post information about Hong Kong police.

Hong Kong’s biggest mobile telecom companies appear to have severed access to a website that listed the personal information of police officers, setting off fears that the authorities may use a new national security law to adopt censorship tactics widely used in mainland China.

Users attempting to access the site, called HKChronicles, on their mobile devices first noticed the disruption on Wednesday evening, according to the site’s owner, Naomi Chan, an 18-year-old high school student. Disruption came without any warning or explanation, she said.

Now, I can write the comments from some of you here to save you the trouble: if this is a site dedicated to doxxing police officers, how is blocking it unreasonable? Your desire to write that comment is almost certainly precisely why this site is the first to have gotten the mainland censorship treatment. But that's entirely besides the point.

Instead, frame it in your mind this way: a site that had previously been accessible by Hong Kong citizens no longer is as a result of the desires of mainland China. In other words, don't get lost in the details, just realize that this is likely the start of a trend. I don't think anyone really wants to suggest in the comments that Beijing will censor this site and stop there, do they? I hope not, because nobody thinks this is anything other than the first domino to fall on its way to internet censorship.

The disruption raised the prospect that the city, long a bastion of online freedom, could begin to fall under the shadow of the tight censorship system that separates mainland Chinese internet from the rest of the online world. On Hong Kong social media, many people worried that the authorities could eventually bring the city’s overall access to the open internet to an end.

“Their talking point has been the national security law will only target a small group of people,” said Lokman Tsui, an assistant professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong who specializes in online communication.  “In practice it hasn’t been limited to a small group of people,” Mr. Tsui said. “My concern is that internet censorship similarly won’t be limited to a small group of websites.”

It's worth noting that, for now, the method for censorship is different than the mainland's Great Firewall, but the end result is the same. I suppose the questions that remain are just how much more action Beijing is going to take prior to January 20th and what the Biden administration intends to do about any of this once it is in office.

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Filed Under: censorship, china, hkchronicles, hong kong, naomi chan, protests, site blocking


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  1. icon
    Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 21 Jan 2021 @ 2:44am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Hong Kong is China

    "Indeed. Why do you keep focussing on them when I've made it clear that's not who I'm talking about?"

    Because the other people aren't, as a group, that politically invested? "Freedom" is an intangible is your primary goal for the day is to ensure you're fed and housed. Which extends to everyone busting their chops at a 9-5 just to meet the mortgage and send their kids to college.
    Incidentally, for a vast majority of those chinese law will at least afford greater access to higher education which, to many of the lower and middle class, will be worth the tradeoff.

    If you are talking about the people who have much less of a vested interest in whether the government is autocratic or democratic - or who on the balance stand to gain more than they lose - then I think you need to clarify why the people with less skin in the game are the ones you want to discuss.

    "Yes, which is why I care about the rights of the people who have either been unable to leave or have chosen to try and fight for their homes."

    And my perception is that those who did not have the option to leave aren't, by and large, those who are out in force protesting. Bluntly put the fight isn't about their homes; Under China there will be a tradeoff - greater focus on cheap homes, better availability of higher education, more focus on core infrastructure and access to health care. The winning concept which has let China remain China for millennia. Catering to the lower class and making sure the up and coming next generation of bureaucrats have the state to thank for everything.

    The loss is about individual freedoms; mainly in the form of self-censorship and a more or less total loss of personal privacy and integrity.

    The tradeoff may be worth it for almost every HK resident who realistically had none of the above to start with (and the protests are featuring very few of those, the primary force and driver being, as always, angry university students)...but less so for the middle class and up who already had their primary needs covered and are upset that the freedoms they were free to pursue are now disappearing.

    What is truly tragic here is that the people currently protesting had their parents make the decision of staying behind for them.

    "You might think they made the wrong decision, but that doesn't make their lives and opinions worthless."

    That's not what I'm saying. I'm saying that picking a fight you can not win only means that when the time comes when that fight might be winnable, there will be none left to fight.
    Until that time comes the options on the table is to leave, bend their head, or be quietly disappeared. This isn't ideal. It's actually pretty damn horrifying. But like we keep telling the alt-right, we live in the world which exists, not the one we'd want. We don't get to change it by swinging our fist and screaming, no matter how carthartic that is.


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