WhatsApp, Twitter and Telegram suspend cooperation with Hong Kong data requests

WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter and Telegram will no longer cooperate with requests from Hong Kong to hand over user data for the time being. This was decided in response to the repression in Hong Kong as a result of the Chinese security law.

A WhatsApp spokesperson told the Wall Street Journal that reviewing and reviewing such requests from Hong Kong has been paused. Whether that will change in the future depends on a ‘further assessment of the impact of the National Security Law, including a formal human rights inquiry, and consultations with human rights experts’. Parent company Facebook follows suit and emphasizes the importance of freedom of expression.

Twitter says it took this measure right after the new, controversial security law came into effect last week. Telegram, which is headquartered in Dubai, previously told Hong Kong Free Press that it will temporarily deny data requests from Hong Kong until there is international consensus on the recent political changes. The company underlined the importance of Hong Kong users’ right to privacy in the current circumstances. Telegram also said it has never given any data to Hong Kong authorities.

There is, however, a nuance to the position of Telegram and perhaps several social media companies that are now reluctant to accept any data requests. Hong Kong Free Press emphasizes that Telegram’s privacy conditions state that a user’s IP address and telephone number can be passed on if there is a court order designating a suspect as a terrorist. However, Article 24 of the law defines ‘terrorism’ very broadly, even vandalism against public property can be regarded as such.

Several people have been arrested in recent days on the basis of this national security law imposed by the central Chinese government. In the meantime, books by critical, pro-democratic authors are also being removed from libraries. The conscious government agency that deals with libraries says it is investigating whether the books in question violate the security law and that they will not be lent during the investigation.

Update, 8:16 PM: Also chat app Signal says to stop cooperating with requests from the Hong Kong authorities. The company also says it has never handed over any data to the police. According to Hong Kong Free Press, Signal was the most popular app in Hong Kong over the past weekend.