Lankford, Kaine Introduce Bill to Combat Internet Censorship in Hong Kong

WASHINGTON, DC – Senators James Lankford (R-OK) and Tim Kaine (D-VA) today introduced the Safeguarding Internet Freedom in Hong Kong Act. The legislation pushes back on China’s aggressive actions to undermine Hong Kong’s autonomy and freedom. The bill comes after the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) passed a sweeping security law that threatens the freedoms of the people of Hong Kong, including their access to the internet and ability to share information online. Lankford and Kaine’s legislation would bolster firewall circumvention infrastructure in Hong Kong and restore freedoms to the people of Hong Kong unfairly targeted by the CCP.

“The recently passed ‘national security’ law undermines every freedom and liberty Hong Kong was promised by China,” said Lankford. “The Chinese Communist Party broke that promise and eroded the basic freedoms that Hongkongers have enjoyed for years. There are consequences to those actions and the United States stands firmly in solidarity with the people of Hong Kong and will work to preserve their liberties. Free speech and assembly are the foundations of free and open societies. Investing in firewall circumvention technology allows us to help uphold these freedoms and ensure open communication and use of the internet for the millions of people living in Hong Kong. We must continue to hold the CCP fully accountable. The United States should not accept the suppression of basic freedoms in Hong Kong.”

“The people of Hong Kong deserve the right to stand up for their freedom and democracy without fear of censorship or surveillance,” said Kaine. “This legislation would help provide peaceful protestors and all Hongkongers with the digital tools they need to access the internet without restrictions, share information freely, and oppose efforts by Chinese authorities to clamp down on dissent and freedom of expression in the city.”

Under the Joint Declaration signed in 1984, China agreed to autonomy and basic freedoms for the people of Hong Kong until 2047, which includes freedom of speech, an open internet, freedom to protest, and due process in court.

Article 9 of the national security law implemented in Hong Kong authorizes unprecedented regulation and suppression of internet activity in the territory. Lankford and Kaine’s bill establishes an interagency working group of officials from the Department of State, the Open Technology Fund, and the US Agency for International Development. The group will coordinate US efforts to develop and deploy firewall circumvention technology to Hong Kong. The federal government already invests in internet freedom programs in mainland China, and other areas around the world with high degrees of online censorship, but recent events make clear that a new program is needed to address what is happening in Hong Kong. 

As a member of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on State and Foreign Operations, Lankford has secured funding for internet freedom programs at the Department of State and the US Agency for Global Media in recent years. In 2019, Lankford sent a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to push for additional firewall circumvention tools to diversify the technology portfolio and increase the effectiveness of the federal government’s efforts. As a commissioner on the Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC), Lankford has worked to hold China accountable for its human rights abuses and predatory lending practices. Lankford was also a cosponsor of the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, which was signed into law by President Trump in 2019.