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IP Address
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NOT SECURE
Your Internet provider can track your Internet activity.
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Privacy Laws in Hong Kong

IVPN customers in Hong Kong trust us every day with their increasing demand for privacy and security. Understand why privacy is such an important issue for customers in Hong Kong.

Data Retention by ISPs

One would assume that Hong Kong would have highly restrictive laws relating to ISPs, considering that the territory is a part of China, which is itself one of the world’s most oppressive countries with matters pertaining to online access and freedom. However, with regard to Hong Kong, that is surprisingly not the case. It’s very important to note that when Hong Kong was returned from British rule to Chinese sovereignty in 1997 it was designated as a Special Administrative Region (SAR). This means that Hong Kong has extensive regional autonomy in most internal matters (although not so with regard to external matters such as defence and foreign affairs).

It is notable that Hong Kong has no data retention laws in place that compel ISPs to retain any customer information, logs or any related metadata relating to customers[1]. So, if someone outside the jurisdiction of Hong Kong demands access to an individual’s logs, they will be rejected simply because logs are not kept by Hong Kong-based ISPs in the first place[2]. This is in stark contrast to the data retention regime imposed by the Chinese government on ISPs in mainland China – but, remember, Hong Kong is exempt from Chinese law and oversight in that regard.

Digital Copyright Laws

The Copyright Ordinance currently in force in Hong Kong came into effect in 1997. The Ordinance provides comprehensive (and instant, it should be noted) protection for recognised categories of literary, dramatic, musical and artistic works, as well as for films, television broadcasts and cable diffusion. Importantly, it also includes any works made available to the public on the Internet[3]. Furthermore, Hong Kong protects the works of authors from any place in the world, or works first published anywhere else in the world.

It should be noted that the Copyright (Amendment) Ordinance 2003 (and, thereafter, the Copyright (Amendment) Ordinance 2007) lifted the restriction on what is known as the “parallel importation” of articles containing a computer program (what we know as computer software products). However, the copyright restrictions still apply if the principal basis of a computer software product is musical sound or visual recordings, movies, television dramas, e-books, or a combination thereof. However, the Copyright (Amendment) Bill of 2014 came as a result of over a decade of controversy due to loopholes in existing legislation which make it difficult to fight piracy on the internet in Hong Kong. The initial bill proposed in 2012 was highly controversial and withdrawn. The amended bill specifically includes six exemptions that are meant to quell concerns over freedom of expression[4].

Freedom of Speech and Censorship

It may come as a surprise that a territory within a country like China affords its citizens quite extensive freedom of speech and censorship protections. But that is exactly what Hong Kong citizens enjoy. Although there is undoubtedly tacit interference by Chinese authorities at times, Hong Kong citizens have been mostly granted their rights to freedom of speech according to the territory’s Bill of Rights. China’s own ‘Great Firewall’ for online usage and scrutiny of IPSs is well-known, but Hong Kong is generally regarded as a territory that protects citizens’ rights to privacy online. In fact, the law was amended in 2012 to grant citizens greater online privacy when compared with mainland China.

In fact, it should be very telling that it was Hong Kong that so demonstrably and controversially showed its support for privacy rights when it allowed Edward Snowden to take refuge in the territory when he fled the U.S. Hong Kong repeatedly refusing American appeals for his extradition back to the U.S.[5]

Future Trends

Hong Kong’s lack of data retention and mostly stringent online privacy laws are in stark contrast to most other developed and rich economies. How long this can last given that it remains a territory of China remains to be seen. However, it should be telling that the Chinese government has mostly left Hong Kong to conduct its own affairs with regard to online privacy and freedom of speech issues for twenty years now. That should bode well going forward.

Our Take

Hong Kong remains a beacon of relative net neutrality in the world – we can only hope that Hong Kong’s citizens continue to ensure that their online privacy is protected.

Interested in other countries? See our Comparison of Internet Privacy Laws page.

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