Crowdfunding to fight restriction of Internet, freedom of speech

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Pro-democracy advocates begin to crowdfund to fight current and future laws compromising Internet freedoms.

Photo: University of Hong Kong (HKU) was left in shambles after this week’s protests.

An injunction order issued by the government attracted the concern of a number of internet privacy and human rights organisations. These groups warned against such bans in an open letter, citing that it inflicts upon freedom of speech and sets itself as a precedent to a slippery slope of further censorship.

In a recent development, the Internet Society Hong Kong chapter expressed their “deep concern” regarding the issue, and announced plans to launch a legal challenge against the injunction. The group is seeking support through the use of crowdfunding in order to cover the legal costs of the review and bringing the case to higher courts. “The injunction is vague and over-broad,” their statement argues, “[and] the government could even force ISPs [Internet Service Providers] into censoring or restricting access to certain sites.” The notion that this injunction order will snowball into an extension of China’s Great Firewall has been shared by the Hong Kong Internet Service Providers Association (HKISPA) as well. 

In an open letter published in October, the HKISPA expressed that net restrictions would threaten the status of Hong Kong as a global financial centre. This worry has been reprised in the ISOC’s statement: “[T]elecommunications providers may decide it is too risky to allow Hong Kong customers to send certain kinds of communications, and Hong Kong Internet service providers may greatly limit Internet access…All of society and the economy today rely on the Internet; undermining its functionality to stop specific communications endangers the whole social order.”

The aforementioned weaknesses and ethical issues bring this strategy further into question when considering its practical effectiveness. Dr Rex Brynen, professor of Political Science at McGill University, states that as it currently stands, internet censorship will have a “limited” effect in Hong Kong. While web curbs can certainly impede protest mobilisation, he posits, “[A]uthorities frequently underestimate the ability of resourceful protesters to find alternative methods of communication – especially, I would think, in Hong Kong.”

The ISOC’s crowdfunding page will be accepting donations until 4 March, 2020.

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