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How Hong Kong protesters are evading China’s digital crackdown

How Hong Kong protesters are evading China’s digital crackdown
Protesters occupy a road as they attend a rally against a controversial extradition law proposal outside the government headquarters in Hong Kong on June 12, 2019. [Photo: Dale De La Rey/AFP/Getty Images]

Tens of thousands of protesters have taken to the streets in Hong Kong in recent days to protest a proposed law that would make it easier to extradite people to the Chinese mainland.

The Hong Kong legislature has postponed further consideration of the measure, which critics say could compromise the former U.K. colony’s tenuous autonomy, but protesters continue to clash with police. As with most modern political movements, the protest is being coordinated in part through online messaging apps, leading to a digital cat-and-mouse game between authorities and activists.

  • Protesters have been communicating with the encrypted text app Telegram, and its creator Pavel Durov reported an apparent Chinese denial of service attack on the service, while reassuring users that their data remains safe.
  • Authorities also arrested the leader of a Telegram group linked to the protests, reported the South China Morning Post.
  • Protesters are also disabling face and fingerprint login on their phones, opting instead for old-fashioned passcodes, Bloomberg reports. That’s because Hong Kong’s legal provisions against self-incrimination, similar to the U.S. Fifth Amendment, mean police can’t demand people’s login credentials, but they might be able to grab people’s hands or point phones at their faces to unlock the devices biometrically.
  • Protesters are also buying one-off transit tickets with cash instead of using their existing passes, Quartz reports. It’s another measure to make it harder for police to know they were at the protests.
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