Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam criticized a U.S. government advisory warning businesses against warrantless surveillance and the potential for forced handing over of business and customer data in the Special Administrative Region (SAR).
the advisory [PDF], released Friday US time by the US Departments of State, Treasury, Commerce, and Homeland Security, lists “heightened risks to data privacy” as one of four concerns companies operating in the region.
The opinion offers the following blunt assessment of the situation in Hong Kong:
The reason for this assessment is the Hong Kong National Security Act (NSL), an instrument that entered into force on July 16, 2020 – the same day that this notice was published.
In a press release announcing the publication of the notice, US Secretary of State Anthony J. Blinken said, “The policies that the government of the People’s Republic of China and the government of Hong Kong have implemented are undermining the legal and regulatory environment which is essential for individuals and businesses to operate freely and with legal certainty in Hong Kong.
The statement added, “Businesses should be aware that the risks in mainland China are now increasingly present in Hong Kong. “
The notice says the law “has introduced an increased risk that authorities in the PRC and Hong Kong will use expanded legal powers to collect data from businesses and individuals in Hong Kong for actions that may violate the” national security “”.
While the agencies that issued the advisory did not see national security used as a pretext to put the NSL into action on unrelated matters, the document suggests that such overbreadth is possible. This potential, along with the empowerment of the Hong Kong chief executive by the NSL to allow wiretapping or electronic surveillance without the need for a court order, has raised concerns in the United States that commercial data may be compromised. are threatened.
The chief executive also argued that “Hong Kong remains an open and free economy, based on the rule of law and a strong regulatory regime,” that the NSL is a controversial-free instrument designed solely to protect national security and respects human rights in Hong Kong.
What is not said is that the very introduction of the NSL was widely seen as a major change in the arrangements under which Hong Kong returned to Chinese control in 1997, and meant that Beijing did indeed get it. more control over SAR affairs than promised in the One Nation, Two Systems Plan.
The United States criticized the NSL when it was announced and passed, and has consistently sanctioned Hong Kong officials on the grounds that they eroded democracy.
The new advice is important because Hong Kong remains an important financial center, which China sees as a way for it to engage with global players who do not want to operate under the laws of the mainland. Hong Kong needs its financial services sector to remain strong to support its economy. US critics therefore have the potential to hurt Beijing by damaging Hong Kong’s prospects – even if that puts individual Hong Kong residents at risk.
The Hong Kong government appears to be aware of this potential, as second statement on the topic is titled “Malicious Attempts by the United States to Damage Hong Kong’s Reputation as a Doomed Global Business Hub.” ®