Legco Election ITFC candidates talk about defending Internet freedom

The "core values of Hong Kong" (freedom, democracy, human rights and rule of law) are the most debated topics in many election forums of the upcoming Legislative Council (LegCo) Election, which is scheduled on Sunday (September 9).

The Hong Kong GCIO noted the government does not impose censorship on online data that are transferred, processed, and resides at local datacenters. That is good news for datacenter operators and customers. What about other forms of online content that do not exist as company assets? In other words, what sorts of Internet freedom may currently be (or can possibly be) at stake in Hong Kong?

Samson Tam and Charles Mok, candidates of the LegCo Election 2012 IT Functional Constituency (ITFC), describe the current state of internet freedom in Hong Kong, the areas of freedoms that are possibly at stake, and what they have done in the past four years to defend Hong Kong's internet freedom.

Q: What "Internet freedom" is/are currently at stake in Hong Kong?

Samson Tam: The key issue at stake is the Copyright (Amendment) Bill 2011 which inadvertently affects "internet freedom" -- "freedom of speech" and "freedom of information" on the internet. As I tried to explain on the video I posted earlier, the Hong Kong government probably consulted the copyright owners only and came up with a bill that looked at the issue from the narrow intellectual property protection viewpoint. The proposal from [peer legislator] Ronny Tong Ka-wah -- exemption from criminal prosecution only if the "parroting" does not cause substantial financial losses to the copyright only -- is not acceptable either. The only way that it should be handled in Hong Kong is full exemption from criminal prosecution.

Charles Mok: [The Hong Kong] government has been seen as slowly but gradually and silently including provisions in various laws that are seen as curtailing internet freedom -- be it the copyright ordinance (Copyright (Amendment) Bill 2011) or COIAO (Control of Obscene and Indecent Articles Ordinance). This is a worrying trend.

Q: How have you been advocating/defending Internet freedom in the past four years?

Tam: Firstly, the 'Green Dam' [an internet filtering system] incident in Mainland China has aroused the attention and dissatisfaction among the IT industry practitioners in Hong Kong. Together with IT industry practitioners, I have drafted a joint petition letter, and finally pressured the Mainland Chinese government to shelve the implementation [of the 'Green Dam'].

Secondly, I said "No" to "Internet Article 23." I demanded the Hong Kong government to first arrange public consultation for the Copyright (Amendment) Bill 2011, including whether it should exempt parody work, and present the bill to the Legislative Council only after the society achieves consensus.

Mok: When the Hong Kong government consulted about COIAO in 2008 they mentioned a proposal to include mandatory filtering by internet service providers (ISPs). They said Australia is already doing it. I investigated with the Australian Chapter of Internet Society and found that to be a false claim, and challenged the Government about it. The government backed off, and took away that provision.

When the Chinese government tried to implement 'Green Dam' in China in mid-2009, I worked with local information security professionals to "dissect" it and offer the world to see the truth, that it is a surveillance software. This was widely reported by international press. The Chinese government eventually backed down.

When the government refused to provide statutory criminal exemption for parody work on existed copyrighted works in the Copyright Ordinance amendment in 2012, I worked with the copyright industry to secure their consent to agree to offer such exemption, helping to relieve concerns of netizens, and letting ISPs enjoy the safe harbor provision they needed. The government in the end did not put the bill amendment back on the legislative agenda of 2012, and the incumbent legislator [Samson Tam] did NOTHING all along.

This story, "Legco Election ITFC candidates talk about defending Internet freedom" was originally published by Computerworld Hong Kong.

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