Screen capture of HK police’s website through which the public can report protest activities to authorities.
Hong Kong police’s national security unit will soon launch a new multi-platform channel including email, messaging apps, and a telephone hotline for the public to report on people suspected of violating the national security law (NSL), according to sources who spoke on condition of anonymity to the South China Morning Post (SCMP).
If confirmed, this new development strongly indicates that the NSL will likely not target “a small number” of individuals, as Carrie Lam once promised, but surveil Hong Kong residents on a massive scale.
The SCMP reports that the informants’ identities would be kept secret and all intelligence gathered would be handled by the national security police.
A government source told the SCMP the setup would “create a deterrent effect for potential suspects, as there will be eyes and ears everywhere.”
Currently, a number of pro-Beijing politicians, organizations and groups in Hong Kong have set up similar, private hotlines and websites that encourage the public to report on suspects of violating the NSL. Those include, for example, platforms for the public to report school teachers who they believe have engaged in “professional misconduct.”
The Hong Kong police did set up a similar platform in September through which the public can inform authorities about protest activities. The police say the platform has received 1.2 million reports since it was launched, and that they have assisted on the arrest and prosecution of individuals. As of October 28, 10,144 individuals have been arrested since the anti-China extradition protests broke out in Hong Kong in June 2019.
The current proposal seems similar, but of a larger scale. It’d be handled by the police’s national security department, which has zero public accountability: By the national security law itself, the department does not respond to public complaints, including those made by the Legislative Council. This means that the public would have no way to find out how the department uses the intelligence it gathers.
Hong Kong Watch, a UK-based human rights group, described the potential new development as “dystopian:”
Hong Kong police to set-up a multi-platform channel to encourage informants to report national security crimes.
This is a terrifying and dystopian development.https://t.co/S31FNz9lw6
— Hong Kong Watch (@hk_watch) October 28, 2020
Under @hk_watch’s thread, many described the report system as “Cultural Revolution 2.0” — during the Chinese Cultural Revolution in the 1960s, Chinese Communist Party Leader Mao Zedong mobilized grassroots citizens to report on their friends and families’ ideological leanings.
@Stand_with_HK, an activist outlet, compared the new development to the Soviet Union’s Stalinist era:
Technology may help make surveillance efficient, but human surveillance is straight out of an old playbook:
Stalin’s regime relied heavily on “mutual surveillance,” urging families to report on each other in communal living spaces and report “disloyalty.”https://t.co/BBLmuNfNVe
— Fight For Freedom. Stand With Hong Kong. 重光團隊 (@Stand_with_HK) October 30, 2020
Benjamin Cheung, lecturer on social psychology at the University of British Columbia, considered the chilling effects of this “hotline”:
“National security” is so vaguely defined, so time to flood the hotline w complaints like “I know someone inciting hatred against the HK/CCP govs. Carrie Lam & the rest of the DAB r constantly stirring shit up like a bunch of 搞屎棍. They’re making ppl really hate the gov.” https://t.co/XvuF7YXxqS
— Benjamin Cheung | 張煦 | 장후 (@UBCDrBenCh) October 28, 2020
And Hong Kong-based activist outlet @HKGlobalConnect pointed out:
The NSL targets only “a small group of people” but let’s set up a national security reporting hotline so that no one would ever feel safe anywhere anymore with “eyes and ears everywhere”.https://t.co/q5DUYrEinZ
— Hong Kong Global Connect (@HKGlobalConnect) October 29, 2020
Democratic Party Lawmaker James To says that this Cultural Revolution-style of report system would lead to distrust and eventually social disintegration.