Authorities say new restrictions are aimed at reducing crime, but activists and rights groups say it’s another form of dissent reduction.
The Hong Kong government has launched a public consultation on the near certain policy change that would require city residents to register their cell phone SIM cards using their real identities, raising more concerns about privacy and security. fears of broader state surveillance.
Trade and Economic Development Secretary Edward Yau unveiled the proposal on Friday, which includes a requirement for individuals to provide their real name, date of birth and identification number for verification.
The new measure follows China’s decision to impose the new national security law on the semi-autonomous city last year.
There are around 21 million SIM card users in Hong Kong. Currently, more than half of them use paid cards that do not require personal information, thus protecting their privacy.
But it has become a source of irritation for Hong Kong’s security forces, as massive pro-democracy protests erupted in the city between 2018 and 2019. Numerous protests were organized using smartphone communication. and through social media.
The real question is not “what% of criminals use prepaid sims”, but “what% of prepaid sims are used by criminals”. It is a right, not a crime, to speak up anonymously.
– Alex Lam Lin Wei Cong (@lwcalex) January 29, 2021
Under the new proposal, businesses are also required to provide company information to register, while individual users are only allowed to have three paid cards from a telecommunications provider.
Minors under the age of 16 are not permitted to register unless adult approval is presented.
Individuals caught providing false information could be sentenced to a long prison term of up to 14 years, according to the proposal.
During this time, telephone companies are required to archive user data and retain user information for at least 12 months after cancellation of registration.
Companies are also required to discontinue service to those who have not submitted information after a certain period of time, and to submit information to authorities for law enforcement purposes.
SIM cards issued by foreign telecommunications service providers would not be affected by the proposal.
Hong Kong Authority Under-Secretary of Security Sonny Au explained that the proposed real-name recording aims to reduce crime, phone harassment, prostitution and even online extortion.
But activists and rights groups say it’s another way for authorities to restrict people’s freedoms.
“The ability for people to be easily reached and to connect to the Internet is important for a thriving digital economy,” Leo Weese, Hong Kong-based computer security expert, told the Hong Kong Free Press.
“Placing arbitrary restrictions on who can and cannot communicate with the world goes against the desire to develop and expand Hong Kong’s economy.”
Public consultation is slated for next month until February 28, and implementation is expected to be completed within a year.
The development comes amid the South China Morning Post report that Beijing is imposing a tighter grip on the Asian financial center.
China signaled a more hands-on approach to Hong Kong affairs early last year when it replaced the heads of the city’s liaison office.
The semi-autonomous territory was transferred from the United Kingdom to China in 1997 on the “one country, two systems” principle.