Hong Kong is nothing more than a Chinese city now, says Glacier Kwong from Keyboard Frontline. She welcomes Google’s decision to reject direct data requests from the Hong Kong government as Beijing is trying to control the public discourse in the city.
“Who controls the past, controls the future; who controls the present, controls the past” has become a living nightmare for Hongkongers, believes Glacier Kwong. While studying in Germany, she is a spokesperson for Keyboard Frontline, a group that campaigns for an open internet environment in Kong Kong.
In an interview with CyberNews, Glacier Kwong expressed her view that people haven't stopped speaking up out of fear of surveillance. They just became more cautious and are using more secure ways to communicate.
Google became the first tech company to make a permanent arrangement and deny direct requests for data from the Hong Kong government. Instead, it will treat Hong Kong as mainland China and direct requests to the US Justice Department. What do you think of Google’s decision? Did you expect it?
I am a bit surprised by the decision. Google has recently demonstrated its willingness to enter the Chinese market, but now they are showing the opposite. I think it is a good move following the US official stance of treating HK like China because we are nothing more than a Chinese city now.
This would protect Google's user and anyone using its service. Google holds a large amount of data that would be too dangerous in the hands of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
What do you make of the arrest of media tycoon Jimmy Lai? Is this how China begins to exercise national security law?
It is a blatant crackdown on press freedom in Hong Kong. By controlling the flow of information online and holding the press responsible for reporting the truth, the CCP and the Hong Kong government have control over the formation of public discourse and public opinion. “Who controls the past, controls the future; who controls the present, controls the past” has become a living nightmare for Hongkongers and those who care about Hong Kong.
I think Beijing wants to send a clear warning to Hongkongers, that the only way to avoid trouble is not only to not talk about China badly, but to comply and praise the regime.
It is a blatant crackdown on press freedom in Hong Kong. By controlling the flow of information online and holding the press responsible for reporting the truth, the CCP and the Hong Kong government have control over the formation of public discourse and public opinion.says Glacier Kwong.
The Hong Kong government has postponed September's parliamentary elections for a year, saying it’s necessary because of the pandemic. Do you see any other reason that they were postponed?
The elections were postponed obviously out of political considerations - to eliminate the possibility of the pro-democratic camp from winning a majority, and to divert the world’s attention away from Hong Kong, and hopefully, they forget about HK later.
Judging from the primary in mid-July, and last year’s District Council election, the CCP worries that the pro-democracy camp will likely win the majority in the Legislative Council. This is not desirable for them.
As the US election is coming up, and the situation in HK intensifies, the world is keeping a close watch on HK and China, making it difficult for CCP to further crackdown on HK’s movement without causing sanctions or the suspension of extradition agreements. Thus, in the hope of being able to buy more time to create the illusion that “one country, two systems” works, and to divert the world’s attention to other things, they have made the call.
As Chinese-imposed national security law came into effect almost two months ago, what consequences have you already observed? Has the Hong Kong internet sphere changed significantly?
I have observed the disappearance of the discussions on ideas like “Hong Kong Independence” openly on online platforms, and there are fewer people who are willing to talk about sensitive political issues online. Instead, Hongkongers are trying to find ways to circumvent the law; for example, they use four underscores to represent the phrase “Hong Kong independence” in Chinese, or use Cantonese phonetic alphabet to represent the slogan of the movement “Liberate Hong Kong, Revolution of our Time.”
I think the change is becoming more visible as Hongkongers and service providers are more prone to self-censorship under the law. I am not sure if anyone has conducted research on counting the usage of sensitive terms online, but I am sure there will be a significant change in that.
How do Hongkongers behave now - do they search for secure ways to communicate, or they just stop in general because of the fear of surveillance? How big is self-censorship?
I think Hongkongers are generally more concerned about surveillance now, as the law allows the authorities unlimited power to conduct surveillance without checks and balances. They start to use more secure measures to communicate, like switching to Signal from Telegram or WhatsApp. But I do not think they stop out of the fear of surveillance.
I think there is self-censorship, as we all try to find ways to say what we want without getting caught. I think censorship lies there, but people still try their best to speak up.
To what extent did China use to surveil people of Hong Kong before the law was enacted?
They did surveillance on us before the law was enacted. HK’s surveillance ordinance and privacy ordinance are flawed and outdated, and do not protect Hongkongers. Our data can be transmitted back to China without our consent or notice, and that is completely legal. In the protest last year, a few smart lamp posts were torn down. Inside the lamp posts, we found parts that are manufactured in China, and data it collects might be sent to China as Chinese manufactures are required to comply with every request the government makes.
Previously, you’ve said you'd rather see big tech companies leave Hong Kong and push for greater change. What could that "greater change" be? And do you see this happening in the future?
That greater change is to completely boycott the Chinese market, despite the dependence on it. Of course, it leaves Hongkongers in devastating dire straits, we will have no access to free information and whatsoever. But China and Hong Kong need the service and products big tech companies provide, the trade is needed on both sides. If tech companies are willing to do so, setting aside short term benefits, they can push China to change its behavior in the long run.
But I am very pessimistic about that. Tech giants, however they brand themselves as human rights advocators, they are but business entities. Money talks, but values do not.
To speak up when being monitored requires a lot of creativity. I think bravery makes up a lot of it, too. The scariest thing about NSL (Hong Kong’s National Security Law - CyberNews) is the fear it generates. You start to see fewer and fewer open discussions online, and you feel isolated and not sure about whether the others are still fighting together.said Glacier Kwong.
What companies besides ProtonVPN have expressed support for Hong Kong?
I am not aware of any other company that has openly and explicitly expressed support for Hong Kong other than ProtonVPN, and I do wish to see more companies doing that.
How do you educate Hongkongers about staying safe online? How to speak up when everything is closely monitored?
My group and my fellow activists have been providing workshops for users to stay safe online, like teaching them to encrypt files, use PGP mail. It is essential to equip them with the know-how to protect themselves online.
To speak up when being monitored requires a lot of creativity. I think bravery makes up a lot of it, too. The scariest thing about NSL (Hong Kong’s National Security Law - CyberNews) is the fear it generates. You start to see fewer and fewer open discussions online, and you feel isolated and not sure about whether the others are still fighting together. But if you are willing to speak up, even though you are afraid, you will then find people who experience the same as you do, and we still stand in solidarity.