Extending the Great Firewall of China would “destroy” Hong Kong – but it can be done

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The suggestion of implementing restrictions to HK’s Internet has many up in arms – but how easily can it be pulled off?

Photo: A landscape view during a #metoo protest in Hong Kong on August 11, 2019 by Matt P.

Exco member Ip Kwok-him said the government has considered placing censors and access restrictions on the Internet to hinder unlawful protests. This comment came after the implementation of the Face Covering Regulation, making many worry that the government would use the emergency law to curb freedoms again. It may be easier than many think.

According to Michael Gazeley, Managing Director at Network Box (world-leading Managed Security Service Provider), enforcing restrictions on the web is not a technically challenging feat. In order to curb access to the Internet, all the government would need to do is enact a law that would force Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to control the type of content coming out of their platforms, which would not be difficult since there are “only a handful” of ISPs to control. He suggested there would be “a massive legal battle” over it, but the undertaking is technically feasible.

People and businesses would likely seek to circumvent controls. While not technically tricky to control, the many ways in which users can bypass web restrictions (using VPNs, peer-to-peer communications, or otherwise) would create more issues for the government to tackle. But the problems with curbing web access goes beyond the technical aspects. The bigger picture is that such restrictions to web access would endanger the entire financial and business structure of Hong Kong, and those who do business would no longer want to stay.

Reactions to Ip’s comment include a statement released by the Hong Kong Internet Service Providers Association (HKISPA) and one published together by the Internet Society (HK Chapter) and Hong Kong Wireless Technology Industry Association (HKWTIA). Both statements take a strong stand against such internet restrictions, claiming it would ruin Hong Kong’s reputation as an open and free business centre. To wit,

“HKISPA would like to warn that, imposing any insensible restrictions on the open Internet would only result in more restrictions, as the original restrictions wouldn’t be effective, and ultimately the result is putting Hong Kong’s Internet behind a big firewall. Therefore, any such restrictions, however slight originally, would start the end of the open Internet of Hong Kong, and would immediately and permanently deter international businesses from positing their businesses and investments in Hong Kong.”

While impeding Hong Kong’s Internet seems like an extremely unlikely scenario, the last four months have proven that anything can happen. Gazeley says that if the government were to force ISPs into curbing web access, “it would just destroy [the city;] it would no longer be Hong Kong.”

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