A joint statement from the Internet Society (Hong Kong Chapter) and Hong Kong Wireless Technology Industry Association to the HKSAR government: Do not censor or restrict Internet use using the Emergency Regulations Ordinance (Cap. 241)關公廟 Kwan Kung Temple
On October 5th, the HKSAR government quoted the Emergency Regulations Ordinance (Cap. 241) for the first time since its establishment. However, the Ordinance states that when the Chief Executive in Council consider the city to be on an occasion of emergency, any regulations regarding the “censorship, and the control and suppression of publications, writings, maps, plans, photographs, communications and means of communication” may be made. When the government announced the usage of the Ordinance, it did not rule out the possibility of making further prohibitions under the Ordinance. The general public has been worried that the government may use the Ordinance to restrict Internet and communications services at areas of protests, or even block online platforms related to social movements.
Therefore, members of our industry release this statement to call upon the government to think twice before acting, and refrain from using the Ordinance to restrict or censor the Internet, or in anyway block the flow of information in response to the recent social movements. This would not only sabotage the rights and freedom that Hong Kong people have always enjoyed, but it would also not help pacify public anger. Yet, it could damage Hong Kong’s public reputation.
Internet and freedom of communication is protected by the Basic Law
We believe that the freedom of speech, press and publication that the Basic Law protects is also applicable to online media. Internet users also enjoy the rights to use or share information and the freedom of speech, which should be free from being censored, masked or the fear of being prosecuted.
Hong Kong’s law-protected freedom and spirit of “rule of law” have made Hong Kong a world class city. If the government uses the Emergency Regulation Ordinance to control the Internet because of recent social activities, it would damage the rights and freedom protected by the Basic Law, and bring about irreparable damage to Hong Kong’s legal system and international reputation.
Effect of ERO on Hong Kong’s position as a world finance centre and Internet communications hub
Prohibiting or censoring Internet communications services would also damage Hong Kong’s economic activities and weaken our position as a regional Internet communications hub. As a world finance centre, Hong Kong’s financial industry relies on the Internet and its communications network. Any Internet censorship technology would be akin to posing a firewall to Hong Kong’s network, bringing about huge economic losses. Hong Kong is an Internet communications hub in the Asia-Pacific region; censoring the Internet would severely affect the competitive edge of the local technology industry, as technological companies would lose faith in Hong Kong and cause a brain drain to nearby regions. It would also make foreign investors lose their confidence in Hong Kong and affect their investment decision in Hong Kong.
Threatening freedom of press would affect Hong Kong’s international images
Providing live broadcasts and real-time information on the Internet is increasing used by the media in recent years. If the government restricts Internet use using the Emergency Regulations Ordinance, it will restrict reporters’ work, further hampering freedom of press and Hong Kong people’s “right to know”. This will seriously damage Hong Kong’s reputation as a free city and international confidence towards Hong Kong.
Interfering the Internet would severely impact daily lives and public safety
The local public much rely on the Internet to channel messages. If Internet services cannot be accessed normally, daily lives of the public will be greatly affected, and public safety might potentially be threatened as well. In the absence of the Internet, both protesters and normal civilians are unable to obtain information to leave the site and reach safe zones, let alone contacting family and friends, eventually leading to unnecessary panic in society.
Urging the government to promise not to restrict Internet use to ease public concern
The open Internet is comprised of Internet security, for example publishing ideas anonymously, is the foundation of freedom of speech and the free flow of information in Hong Kong, which is also an essential element of basic human rights. Therefore, the industry calls upon the government to promise not to further scrutinize, control, suppress or terminate the Internet and communication services through the Emergency Regulations Ordinance, or bar the free flow of information, to ease the public’s concern and safeguard the safety and interest of all Hong Kong citizens.
Internet Society (Hong Kong Chapter) and Hong Kong Wireless Technology Industry Association
October 8th, 2019
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