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Building Trust 11 November 2019

Internet Society Deeply Concerned about Interim Injunction Ordered by Hong Kong High Court

The Internet Society and the Internet Society Hong Kong Chapter are deeply concerned about the recent interim injunction (High Court Intended Action 202/2019) ordered by the Hong Kong High Court and the effects it might have on the operation of Internet infrastructure and online communications. The Internet Society is troubled by actions like this that negatively impact Internet infrastructure.

The order prohibits unnamed, unspecified members of the public from communicating through “any Internet-based platform” any material that “promotes, encourages or incites the use or threat of violence, intended or likely to cause” bodily injury or property damage. It further prohibits anyone from “Assisting, causing, counselling, procuring, instigating, inciting, aiding, abetting or authorizing” or “republishing” such material.

This order has serious implications for Internet and web infrastructure. It does not protect Hong Kong society as it claims, because it fails to protect the most reliable, cheapest means of communication — the Internet. Undermining this technology puts Hong Kong society at greater risk, rather than protecting it.

The order will have the unintended consequence of interfering with the normal operations of the local and global Internet, jeopardizing the smooth delivery of Internet services in Hong Kong and its neighbors. The prohibition on republishing alone means that, for example, web caches — which reduce network congestion and increase available network bandwidth by storing copies of frequently accessed content closer to users — are in serious danger from this order, because these technologies cannot tell the difference between material prohibited by the order and material that is not. For the same reasons, content delivery networks (CDNs) may also avoid Hong Kong market, greatly reducing the reliability of services in Hong Kong.

Further, telecommunications providers may decide it is too risky to allow Hong Kong customers to send certain kinds of communications — for example, text messages — and Hong Kong Internet service providers may greatly limit Internet access, as these entities cannot tell if any given communication could be prohibited. This outcome would directly endanger the lives and livelihoods of many Hong Kong people, and will have serious repercussions on Hong Kong’s economy and its links to the global digital economy. It will also severely undermine citizens’ confidence and willingness to communicate and share information online. All of society and the economy today rely on the Internet; undermining its functionality to stop specific communications endangers the whole social order.

The Internet Society believes this injunctive order should not target the use of technology and online services such as “Internet-based” platforms. Further, we urge the government to ask the court to withdraw the order and explore more effective and fair means of curtailing violence.

The Internet Society Hong Kong Chapter will soon file a judicial review seeking to invalidate the interim injunction.

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