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
It is notable that Hong Kong has no data retention laws in place that compel ISPs to retain any
logs or any related metadata relating to customers. 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. This is in stark contrast to the data
imposed by the Chinese government on ISPs in
mainland China – but, remember, Hong Kong is exempt from Chinese law and oversight in that
Digital Copyright Laws
The Copyright Ordinance currently in force in Hong Kong came into effect in 1997. The Ordinance
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.
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
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 The initial bill proposed in 2012 was highly controversial and withdrawn.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
includes six exemptions that are meant to quell concerns over freedom of expression.
Freedom of Speech and Censorship
It may come as a surprise that a territory within a country like China affords its citizens quite
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
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.
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.
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