Chinese government builds new Great Firewall around Hong Kong

An illustration of the Chinese government monitoring Hong Kong citizens.

The governing body of Hong Kong rushed approval of Article 43, which grants sweeping powers to Hong Kong law enforcement, including the ability to intercept private communications and censor online media without a warrant. These regulations specify the powers that the Hong Kong government can take under the National Security Law that was passed by China’s National People’s Congress on June 30.

Article 43 was published at 9:51 PM local time, July 6, and went into effect two hours later at midnight on July 7. The regulations it introduces make it much easier for Chinese authorities to stifle dissent in Hong Kong. Human rights activists and protestors fear that these regulations will allow China to surround Hong Kong with the ‘Great Firewall,’ the name given to the technological controls and legislative acts that allow China to censor Chinese websites and prevent access to the outside Internet.

What is contained in Article 43?

This rapidly introduced regulation gives law enforcement broad authority to investigate and censor anything or anyone that “endangers national security,” a concept that itself is vaguely defined and allows for the suppression of free speech. It allows the police to request the removal of an online message they deem inflammatory without a warrant or approval from a court. Any social media provider, Internet hosting service, and/or network service provider that does not delete or restrict access to a message after receiving such a request will face a fine of 100,000 Hong Kong dollars (roughly $13,000) and six months imprisonment. Any individual that refuses to delete an offensive post will face the same fine and up to a year in prison.

In cases where the messages are not immediately deleted, the police can get a warrant to seize the relevant electronic devices and force decryption.

Article 43 also dramatically expands the surveillance powers of Hong Kong law enforcement. Covert surveillance operations do not need court approval or a warrant, only approval from Hong Kong’s Chief Executive. It also states that “less intrusive covert surveillance” may be approved by a police force representative designated by the Chief Executive. This lack of oversight means there is no one to consider the surveillance subject’s basic right to privacy and due process.

These regulations extend law enforcement’s authority offline as well. Police can now (under exceptional circumstances) search premises or seize property without a warrant. They can also force anyone they suspect of violating the national security law to surrender their passport, preventing them from leaving Hong Kong, although this requires a warrant.

Article 43 effectively destroys the “one country, two systems” principle that allowed Hong Kong to maintain the freedom of speech, rule of law, and general openness that made the city such an international success. These regulations effectively quash the rights of Hong Kong citizens and subject them to the same surveillance and censorship that all Chinese citizens face.

The implementation of Article 43 completes the process that began with China’s National Security Law of June 30, which stripped Hong Kong of its autonomy. The national security law also threatens life imprisonment for any acts of “separatism, subversion, terrorism and foreign interference.” 

What this means for Hong Kong

First, these regulations will immediately curb the media and Internet freedom of Hong Kong. Article 43 allows the Hong Kong police to force Internet service providers (ISPs) and social media platforms to censor the Internet for them. It seems unlikely that Hong Kong ISPs will be able to maintain the open and free Internet that Hong Kong is known for and comply with these regulations. 

Second, the citizens of Hong Kong can no longer expect their rights to be protected. These regulations were implemented in response to the protests that have dominated the city since the spring of 2019. Everything about Article 43, from the broad powers it grants to law enforcement to its lack of oversight and due process to the way it was put into force in the middle of the night, smacks of an effort to undermine the legitimate rule of law. 

This day was foreshadowed on June 30, when China’s national security went into effect. As soon as the law was implemented, a flood of Hong Kongers deleted their social media accounts, fearing political messages could be used to convict them of subversion. Even with this warning, the Hong Kong government’s brazen attitude has shocked everyone, including Hong Kong activists who have long feared Chinese suppression.

How to resist Article 43

The Chinese government will first rely on local companies to clamp down on the Hong Kong Internet. However, as we have seen in the past, the Chinese government has often had the voluntary cooperation of foreign tech companies such as Apple when it comes to enforcing censorship. Let us state clearly that without a Swiss court order, we will not assist or comply with any Chinese demands over Article 43, and we remain committed to protecting ProtonMail and ProtonVPN users in Hong Kong.

This government attack on its citizens’ rights is precisely the type of situation that led us to develop ProtonMail and ProtonVPN. The first debate over China’s national security law back in May turned ProtonVPN into one of Hong Kong’s most popular apps. Now, we reaffirm our commitment to defend the privacy and freedom of speech that is necessary for democracy to flourish. You can support these efforts by signing up for a ProtonMail secure email account and standing with Hong Kong.

You can get a free secure email account from ProtonMail here.

We also provide a free VPN service to protect your privacy.

ProtonMail and ProtonVPN are funded by community contributions. If you would like to support our development efforts, you can upgrade to a paid plan. Thank you for your support.

About the Author

Proton Team

We are scientists, engineers, and developers drawn together by a shared vision of protecting civil liberties online. Ensuring online privacy and security are core values for the ProtonMail team, and we strive daily to protect your rights online.

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15 comments on “Chinese government builds new Great Firewall around Hong Kong

  • Dear Protonmail, as an active chinese user of your service I am glad to welcome your statement in standing with HK people and resist the new so called security law. I appreciate your strong determination in protecting freedom of speech, and out of which I will continue my support of your seevice.

    There’s however one question: would this law affect any of the infrastructures of Protonmail or ProtonVPN? At least for the latter I knew there were exit servers deployed in HK. Are they deemed to be insecure?

    Reply
  • Please use ProtonMail. Not GMail from Google.

    GMail is USDOJ mail (U.S. Department of Justice can search through your GMail any time it feels like it – and they have already done so through their FBI subsidiary. The FBI has already searched for lovers, medications, etc., in the NSA database – all without a warrant).

    You just encourage spying if you use GMail, which is USDOJMail.

    Thank you,
    T.

    Reply
  • THANK YOU so much for your affirm commitment to defend the privacy and human rights for the people of Hong Kong, and people around the world, against the evil attack from CCP! It means a lot to us, as a Hongkongers, as a PM-ers. We will continuously support your effort and bring it to more people who needed it. Thanks again!

    Reply
  • Vaya situación la que viven. Absoluta vigilancia y censura, de cara a un mundo como el imaginado en la novela 1984 y un Mundo Feliz. No descartemos que el resto de gobiernos a nivel mundial (sobre todo en occidente) tomen en consideración aplicar estas mismas medidas disfrazadas de “seguridad” para mantenernos completamente vigilados. Sino es que ya lo hacen y simplemente nos entregamos en bandeja de plata.
    Excelente articulo.
    Gracias.

    Reply
  • The new law allow wiretapping servers. That is something can be done outside and transaparent you will not notice it.

    Reply
  • Protonmail is dragging itself into a political quagmire. Just write articles from a purely technical non-political angle and you won’t suddenly get banned in certain regions.

    Reply
  • The Problem is General Pubilc does not care about any of these(their data) and trusts The rullers too much (strangers).
    The rullers Gives a single statement (for your safety and security), and people trust it easly(for granted they are alwasy good and right.) everyone comes from the smae earth (the good and bad it is a cycle).

    Just take security and privacy in your hand (don’t need to work in jym very hard).
    if you don’t care they can have your data, but why do you want to show it when you have an option like proton.

    Reply
  • I am very disappointed that an open source organization will have such a strong political inclination and irresponsibly evaluate the laws of other countries, making it feel like a commercial organization. Even if you want to evaluate the laws of other countries, please with sufficient facts. You must know that opinions are always one-sided, you see what you want to see, read what you want to read, you accept the prejudice knowledge brought by the biased media, and finally come to this prejudice result.

    You set out the regulations for special circumstances and came to the conclusion that Hong Kong citizens are under surveillance. It’s really ridiculous. It makes me feel like listening to a diplomatic reporter’s speech, full of political intent. If you don’t have a bomb at home to blow up a shopping mall, then I Defend your freedom to the death.

    China is not the United States, there is no PRISM (surveillance program), and there will not be in the future.

    You have been emphasizing freedom of speech, but you have never mentioned responsibility.
    Have you seen the video of terrorists pouring gasoline on civilians and then lighting them up? Have you seen the video of terrorists hiding their knife behind flowers and then stabbing people who preach peace? Have You saw the video of “peaceful” protesters Surrounded a father-daughter pair just because the father disagrees with them? If you don’ turst, I can send it to you. I believe you can’t see these in your media. Because of prejudice.

    Without this uncontrolled parade, no new security law would be needed.But, the fact is that order is out of control, the economy is stagnant, and peace-loving people die.
    The Security Law was enacted in accordance with Article 23 of the Basic Law of the Hong Kong Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China in 1990. The establishment of the Security Law is legal.

    If there is no the Law of the People’s Republic of China on Safeguarding National Security in the Hong Kong, how long will this riot last (of course this riot is the freedom of Hong Kong people through your media reports)? Without this law, terrorists Will continue to connect to the United States, get support, and ignite fire on the streets.
    This law will only fight against those who try to undermine national unity. The principle of one country, two systems will not be affected.

    Reply
  • I would be pleased if original content of article 43 was tagged below this post, so everyone who cares can verify the statement above on their own, rather than receives post-processed or extracted information which is, as we all know, easily prejudiced and misleading

    Reply
    • Hi Sebastian,
      That is a fair request. Below is the entirety of Article 43. This was taken from https://www.chinadaily.com.cn/a/202007/01/WS5efbd6f5a310834817256495.html which has a copy of the full text of The Law of the People’s Republic of China on Safeguarding National Security in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, otherwise known as the National Security Law or NSL.

      Article 43
      When handling cases concerning offence endangering national security, the department for safeguarding national security of the Police Force of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region may take measures that law enforcement authorities, including the Hong Kong Police Force, are allowed to apply under the laws in force in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region in investigating serious crimes, and may also take the following measures:

      (1) search of premises, vehicles, vessels, aircraft and other relevant places and electronic devices that may contain evidence of an offence;

      (2) ordering any person suspected of having committed an offence endangering national security to surrender travel documents, or prohibiting the person concerned from leaving the Region;

      (3) freezing of, applying for restraint order, charging order and confiscation order in respect of, and forfeiture of property used or intended to be used for the commission of the offence, proceeds of crime, or other property relating to the commission of the offence;

      (4) requiring a person who published information or the relevant service provider to delete the information or provide assistance;

      (5) requiring a political organisation of a foreign country or outside the mainland, Hong Kong and Macao of the People’s Republic of China, or an agent of authorities or a political organisation of a foreign country or outside the mainland, Hong Kong and Macao of the People’s Republic of China, to provide information;

      (6) upon approval of the Chief Executive, carrying out interception of communications and conducting covert surveillance on a person who is suspected, on reasonable grounds, of having involved in the commission of an offence endangering national security; and

      (7) requiring a person, who is suspected, on reasonable grounds, of having in possession information or material relevant to investigation, to answer questions and furnish such information or produce such material.

      The Committee for Safeguarding National Security of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region shall be responsible for supervising the implementation of the measures stipulated in the first paragraph of this Article by law enforcement authorities including the department for safeguarding national security of the Hong Kong Police Force.

      The Chief Executive shall be authorised, in conjunction with the Committee for Safeguarding National Security of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, to make relevant implementation rules for the purpose of applying the measures under the first paragraph of this Article.

      Reply