Sunday, May 22, 2022

[天下] Can Hong Kong block Telegram? | 香港政府能封鎖Telegram嗎?

Can Hong Kong block Telegram?

In a committee meeting of the legislature of Hong Kong, the territory’s Privacy Commissioner made a comment on her dissatisfaction with “certain overseas platform” in its handling of requests to remove doxxing information. With these cases numbering “sometimes over 200 a week,” the commissioner said she would consider further actions to escalate. 

And then, a local media leaked the platform in question to be Telegram, a popular messaging application. Right away, the Hong Kong public were asking, will the authorities block and ban Telegram? A whole host of pro-government legislators jumped at the opportunity to call for a blockage. And international media such as Bloomberg reported the news to the world as another example of Hong Kong’s recent draconian measures against freedom of expression. 

To block or not to block? Blocking Telegram is easier said than done. Those in the tech sector will remind others of Russia’s attempt to do exactly that, and it failed. Can Hong Kong achieve what Russia couldn’t? In 2018, the Russian government demanded Telegram, which actually was founded originally as a Russian company, to provide its encryption key to officials, so that the government could try to monitor content on the platform. Telegram refused, and then the Russian government blocked the IP addresses used by Telegram. 

There was just a problem — Telegram is not a website, but an Internet based application service. When Russia blocked those IP addresses used by Telegram on a dynamic basis, those other services or websites sharing the same common cloud platforms used were also affected. We are talking about popular global cloud platforms such as AWS, Microsoft Azure and Cloudflare. Those “accidental victims” that were blocked even allegedly included some of Russia’s government’s own websites. 

Four years have passed, are there any new ways to block? Apparently not. The whole Internet today may actually be even more reliant on such cloud services. Indeed, in June, 2020, Russia actually “unblocked” Telegram. Most ironically, the Russian government was found to be using more and more of this messaging platform over the years, including official and legitimate services to citizens, as well as using it to spread disinformation. 

Some people may ask, well, then, why can China do it? And not only Telegram, but a wide range of other websites and services. If they can, why can’t Russia and Hong Kong? The simple answer is that the Great Firewall of China — its notorious censorship mechanism — is based on a series of infrastructure and policy elements that most notably depended on having government agencies and state-owned telecom enterprises keeping absolute control over its Internet gateways to outside of the country, beginning from decades ago when the Internet infrastructure was built for China. 

That was, and is, not the way in Russia or Hong Kong, and probably any other country in the world save a few like North Korea. It’s not as simple as passing a new law, or setting up a new piece of censorship software, to “become like China.” So, the other countries most likely will have to undertake a series of targeted means — technical, administrative and legal — to “handle” the content undesirable to their autocratic rulers. 

So, all we can say is that, if Hong Kong wants to find a way to block Telegram, it probably won’t be easy, but no one can stop them from trying. 

One may recall that back in 2019, during the season of anti-extradition bill protests, there were also news leaks from the Hong Kong government about how it was “seriously considering blocking Telegram.” Presumably because of the technical difficulties, that did not happen. However, late in that year, the government applied for, and was granted, a court injunction to prohibit anyone from “wilfully disseminating, circulating, publishing or re-publishing on any Internet-based platform or medium (including but not limited to LIHKG and Telegram) any materials or information for the purpose of promoting, encouraging or inciting the use or threat of violence, intended or likely to cause bodily injury or property damage unlawfully in Hong Kong.” Telegram, along with a local bulletin-board style platform LIHKG, were indeed singled out since two and a half years ago. 

Since then, numerous Telegram group administrators have been arrested, charged and sentenced for a variety of charges of crimes. So if the authorities are still feeling that is not enough, and a technical blockage of Telegram may be difficult, then what can they do? The first possibility is to find an “excuse” to apply to the court for the two main mobile operating system platforms of Apple and Google to remove the Telegram app from their online stores. That way mobile phone users registered in Hong Kong will not be able to directly download and install the app, but users registered from other locations, as well as local users who already had the app on their phones or PCs, will still be able to use it. 

But if the Hong Kong authorities do that, international reaction must be one of immediate and inevitable indignation, and almost guaranteed to draw the attention of western governments, with little practically meaningful effect to block. Is that worth it? In today’s Hong Kong, nobody can bet against the authorities’ irrationalities. 

Some may suggest, why can’t Hong Kong legislate to ban Telegram altogether, so if anyone is found to have it on their phones or PCs, they can be fined or prosecuted. Possibly, in today’s completely submissive and obedient Hong Kong legislature formed after a “perfected” electoral reform, passage of such a law may not be a difficult task at all. 

However, blocking certain applications, websites or even companies by naming them in the law is still somewhat unprecedented, and it may not be as easy as it sounds to define the scope of the blockage. I would rather point out that for authoritarian regimes, rather than banning a given list of services, they may prefer to set out a set of vague and broad criteria of what would be illegal, for highest flexibility and maximum reach, that is, similar to the injunction of 2019. 

In the past week, conflicting news emerged such that, on the one hand, some media outlets reported that the authorities would seek guidance from China in order to adopt “the most vehement ways” to block Telegram, while other sources revealed that the authorities privately acknowledged the technical difficulties and were only raising the rhetoric to pressure Telegram to improve its compliance. 

Well, no one can predict the future action of an irrational regime, but the fact remains that personal data protection and privacy protection by law in Hong Kong has been cornered into “anti-doxxing” alone, a rather disproportionate way of handling a matter of huge importance to citizens’ protection as well as a territory’s economic development. 

Certainly doxxing is not to be condoned, but any attempt, legal or otherwise, to mitigate this issue may be done in balance of other important factors including freedoms of information and the media. Of course, in reality, such expectations are increasingly impractical and untimely for today’s Hong Kong.

What I found most “interesting” about the two sides of this discussion — the pro-Beijing faction calling for strict blockage of such foreign platforms, or the citizens concerned about losing yet another service for their day-to-day use — few seem to remember that even if Telegram is “successfully” blocked in Hong Kong, doxxing of these same targets will continue to carry on outside of Hong Kong. The “extraterritorial jurisdiction” put into Hong Kong’s privacy laws, including the doxxing related amendments passed in Hong Kong last September, are still very hard to enforce. Simply pushing doxxing out of sight in Hong Kong hardly solved the problem.

So the current controversy is also about the impracticality of extraterritorial jurisdiction of the law. The government and the legislature like to put this in all the digital-related laws, almost as a manifest of “digital sovereignty,” even though it is harder and harder to receive recognition for such jurisdiction right from regimes overseas, as Hong Kong becomes more and more isolated diplomatically and internationally. Will Hong Kong’s next step be to legislate to be able to forcibly hold foreign companies accountable for everything that happens outside of Hong Kong, resulting in a de facto eviction of more global companies from Hong Kong?

So, if we are to ask the question, what a Telegram block will mean for Hong Kong’s free flow of information and its role as a regional information center and commercial hub? I can only say that these past descriptions of Hong Kong’s role as a center and hub have been slipping farther and farther away in these two years. Hong Kong’s sharp decline indeed is a huge contrast to Taiwan’s digital economy development. 

May Hong Kong also serve as a reminder for vigilance and a caution to how delicate and easy that freedoms can be stripped from a previously vibrant society.

Published: CommonWealth Insight on May 25 2022










不過,沒有人能說他們不會嘗試。回想2019年也曾有消息傳出,香港政府曾經認真考慮禁止Telegram和連登討論區,不過當時可能因為技術限制,最後沒有發生。反而在當年10月底,當局採取了以律政司向法庭申請禁制令的方法,禁止任何人「故意在任何基於互聯網的平台或媒介上傳布、傳播、發布或重新發布任何目的在於促進、鼓勵或煽動使用或威脅使用暴力的材料或信息」,禁制令中更指明「包括但不限於LIHKG 連登和Telegram」。










Published: 獨立評論 @天下 on May 21 2022


At 5:19 PM, Blogger ดูหนังออนไลน์ said...


At 2:43 PM, Blogger อนิเมะญี่ปุ่นสุดฮิต ซีรี่ย์อนิเมะ said...

Thank you for sharing good stories

At 11:38 PM, Blogger nani said...


At 3:47 PM, Blogger Unknown said...



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