Hong Kong Gives Police Sweeping Powers Under China Security Law

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Hong Kong asserted sweeping new police powers — from warrant-less searches to demands to take down internet posts — as the territory revealed more about how it would implement a national security law handed down last week by Chinese lawmakers.

The rules were intended to help “prevent, suppress and impose punishment for offenses endangering national security,” the Hong Kong government said in astatement late Monday, hours before the measures took effect. Failure to comply with the rules could bring punishments including fines of as much as HK$100,000 ($13,000) and prison sentences as long as two years.

The policies shed further light on how the security legislation drafted by National People’s Congress in Beijing will dramatically change how justice is administered in the former British colony. Hong Kong was returned to Chinese rule in 1997 on a promise to maintain its freedom of expression, capitalist financial system and independent judiciary for at least 50 years.

The law has already prompted Google, Facebook Inc. and Twitter Inc. to suspend processing user data requests over concerns that authorities could use the measure to curb freedom of expression.

Google, Facebook, Twitter Pause Hong Kong Data Requests

The rules allow authorities investigating national security matters to:

  • Secure permission for warrant-less searches from high-ranking police officials in “exceptional circumstances.”
  • Restrict people under investigation from leaving Hong Kong and seize travel documents.
  • Freeze assets and seize property, if the security minister has “reasonable grounds” to suspect that any property is related to an offense endangering national security. Anyone who knows or suspects that any property is related to an offense endangering national security is required to disclose the information.
  • Demand the removal of online messages. Police can seek the security minister’s permission to order publishers, service providers and hosting services to remove messages, restrict or cease access to the message, or restrict or cease access by any person to the platform.
  • Seek warrants to seize electronic devices to stop communications that “seriously affect” the public.
  • Require “foreign and Taiwan political organizations and agents” to disclose local personal particulars, assets, sources of income and expenditures in Hong Kong.
  • Seek chief executive approval to intercept communications and conduct covert surveillance.
  • Request court orders to force those involved in investigations to answer questions, furnish information and produce materials.

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