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LCQ6: Curbing circulation of information that violates Hong Kong National Security Law
     Following is a question by the Hon Stanley Li and a reply by the Secretary for Security, Mr Tang Ping-keung, in the Legislative Council today (November 30):
     Some members of the public and media have found that even after the implementation of the Hong Kong National Security Law, information advocating Hong Kong independence is still all over the place in the community and on the Internet. For instance, books on Hong Kong independence are found among the collections of public libraries, e-books on Hong Kong independence have been published on online platforms, and a song on Hong Kong independence which is claimed as the "national anthem of Hong Kong" has even appeared among the search results of Internet search engines. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:
(1) how the Government will take the lead in the work of reviewing the collections of public libraries to see if they comply with the Hong Kong National Security Law (including how to step up the examination of the contents of those books published by authors or publishers who previously published books on Hong Kong independence), and of the expected time needed for ensuring that all collections do not have any books on Hong Kong independence;
(2) whether the Government has studied ways to regulate online platforms (e.g. the Google e-books platform) to prevent such platforms from selling books that violate the Hong Kong National Security Law; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that; and
(3) whether the Government will regularly use technologies to review the search results of Internet search engines, as well as inform the relevant operators about any false information (including false information concerning national sovereignty) and request their removal of such false information; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that?
     The implementation of the National Security Law has generally restored order from chaos in Hong Kong. That said, Hong Kong is still facing considerable national security risks. For instance, elements endangering the security of our country and of Hong Kong continue to disseminate messages opposing the Central Authorities and the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) Government through "soft resistance" means.
     At the same time, according to Article 9 of the National Security Law, the HKSAR Government shall take necessary measures to strengthen public communication, guidance, supervision and regulation over matters concerning national security, including those relating to the internet.
     In view of the factors above, and having consulted the Culture, Sports and Tourism Bureau, the Innovation, Technology and Industry Bureau (ITIB), and the Home and Youth Affairs Bureau (HYAB), my reply to the Hon Stanley Li's question is as follows:
(1) In tandem with the implementation of the National Security Law, the Hong Kong Public Libraries (HKPL) of the Leisure and Cultural Services Department has re-examined and updated the procedures for and guidelines on purchasing library materials and accepting donations of books and periodicals. Safeguarding national security has now been included as one of the considerations to ensure that library collections for loan by members of the public free of charge conform to the laws of Hong Kong.
     In addition to carefully selecting library materials to be included in the library collection, the HKPL also proactively examines its existing items. At present, the HKPL has completed a preliminary review of its library stock, including publications of those authors or publishers that have been suspected of publishing books on "Hong Kong independence" previously, with a view to ensuring that materials contrary to the interests of national security would not be included in library collections. Any library material which is suspected of breaching the National Security Law or other laws will be removed from library shelves immediately. Only when the library material concerned is ascertained upon careful examination that its content does not violate the relevant laws will it be put on library shelves again.
     The HKPL will keep reviewing library materials to ensure that the library collection does not contain materials that are in breach of the National Security Law.
(2) and (3) As regards enforcement actions against illegal information on the internet (including that endangering national security), we must emphasise that most of the laws enacted to prevent crimes in the real world are in principle applicable to the online world. Any person or organisation disseminating contents on the internet must comply with the relevant requirements of the National Security Law and other local laws.
     In particular, various provisions are already in place under the existing legal framework to deal with persons or organisations selling books endangering national security or disseminating false information on the internet with a view to endangering national security. They include:
(i) Sections 9 and 10 of the Crimes Ordinance: such provisions stipulate that any person who utters any seditious words; prints, publishes, sells, distributes or reproduces any seditious publication and so on, with the intention to bring into hatred against the Central Authorities or the HKSAR Government, incite persons to violence, counsel disobedience to law, promote feelings of ill will between different classes of the population of Hong Kong and so on shall be guilty of an offence;
(ii) Offences under Chapter III of the National Security Law: Articles 21 and 23 prohibit a person from inciting, assisting in or abetting the commission by other persons of the offence of secession under Article 20 and the offence of subversion under Article 22 respectively. Article 27 also prohibits a person from advocating terrorism or inciting the commission of a terrorist activity. The National Security Law has extraterritorial effect. Regardless of where the persons who violate the National Security Law are located, they will be dealt with by the HKSAR Government in accordance with the law.
     In a bid to prevent and detect crimes, the Police will conduct "online patrols", and will hold the persons or organisations involved in illegal activities liable for their criminal acts. In fact, law enforcement agencies have successfully taken enforcement actions against a number of cases involving publication (including online publication) of seditious information or books.
     And if an electronic message published on an electronic platform is likely to constitute an offence endangering national security or to cause the occurrence of such an offence, the Police may, with the approval of the Secretary for Security, require a service provider to take disabling actions on the electronic message concerned in accordance with Schedule 4 to the Implementation Rules for the National Security Law, which include removing the message from the platform or restricting access to the message via the platform by any person. 
     On the other hand, as the facilitator and promoter of innovation and technology development, the ITIB and the Office of the Government Chief Information Officer (OGCIO) have been keeping liaison with various internet search-engine service providers. In view of a recent case in which an online search for some keywords related to "Hong Kong" and "national anthem" through the internet search-engine would be resulting in a song closely associated with serious violence and protests advocating for "Hong Kong independence" in 2019 being shown in some top search result, the ITIB and the OGCIO have mounted solemn negotiations with the internet search-engine service provider concerned, which has been requested to, in a serious manner, address the situation and take follow-up actions. The service provider has also been requested in writing to put the correct information at the top of search results. The service provider responded that it would follow up on the case. The Government would closely monitor the developments.
     Last but not least, I wish to point out that false information has done serious harm to the society, and must be effectively dealt with. Since the serious violence in 2019, there has been an influx of false information in the society. Such information wantonly smears the Government, and advocates violence and divides the society. The HKSAR Government will, after the conclusion of the consultancy study on addressing the issue of false information, look into the findings of the study, and will take into consideration the practice and experience in overseas jurisdictions, as well as the relevant difficulties and controversies in such jurisdictions, with a view to working out the way forward having regard to the local situations. The Security Bureau will support the HYAB in taking forward relevant work.
     Even though there is no legislation against fake news in Hong Kong yet, other than sections 9 and 10 of the Crimes Ordinance and the National Security Law as mentioned above, various provisions are in place under the existing legal framework to deal with the dissemination of inappropriate information, for example, section 24 of the Crimes Ordinance concerning criminal intimidation; as well as section 23 concerning blackmail, section 16A concerning fraud and section 17 concerning obtaining property by deception of the Theft Ordinance.
     Bureaux and departments of the HKSAR Government will continue to take action on all fronts to address the issue of false information to curb the dissemination of false information endangering national security, and prevent people from being agitated or incited by false information released by persons or organisations with ulterior motives.
     Thank you, President.
Ends/Wednesday, November 30, 2022
Issued at HKT 16:15
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