Hong Kong Police will launch a counter-terrorism reporting hotline, which comes with rewards for tips, on Wednesday, leading to concerns that it will incentivize paranoia and spying on fellow citizens.
In a press release issued on Tuesday, police said the hotline — 6366-6999 — is aimed at encouraging the public to provide intelligence about terrorism or violence-related crimes.
The force launched an anti-violence hotline for the public to provide information to assist in the prevention and detection of crimes following the social unrest in 2019, during which police cracked down on multiple plots of attack relating to firearms and explosives.
“Since then the hotline has addressed many reports from enthusiastic citizens,” the release read.
The force also noted that while Hong Kong’s law and order “has generally regained its stability” after Beijing imposed the National Security Law in 2020, “the activities of local extremists have turned underground and become more covert.”
Police arrested a number of people in two separate cases last month for allegedly disseminating violent remarks online, attempting to make lethal weapons and plotting violent attacks. A variety of weapons, large batches of equipment and raw materials for manufacturing explosives were also seized during the operations, according to authorities.
“All these illustrate that local extremists are hidden in the community and they remain a potential threat to the security in Hong Kong,” the release read.
As such, police said they have upgraded its anti-violence hotline to a counter-terrorism reporting hotline, managed by the Inter-departmental Counter-Terrorism Unit.
“The new hotline number is easier to remember, and its first stage will include SMS and WeChat reporting features,” the force said.
The release went on to say that the hotline’s operations would be reviewed from time to time and authorities would expand the number of reporting channels as and when necessary to further facilitate reporting by the public.
Apart from violent acts, the public may also report suspected terrorism-related activities around them, in particular extremist plots, via this upgraded hotline, police said.
“Reporting such acts without delay will prevent and combat extremist activities more effectively,” they added.
In order to encourage the public to make reports, police are planning to pay rewards to those who provide reliable terrorism-related information.
“Regardless of the means for reporting, if the information provided by the public is of crucial assistance to detection of terrorism-related crimes, [the unit] will, upon completion of prosecution of offences, assess and determine the reward amounts under a stringent mechanism,” the force said.
They also said that data collected will be strictly dealt with in accordance with the Personal Data (Privacy) Ordinance, and will not be provided to third parties.
Some netizens expressed concerns about the impact of a law that could reward spying on one’s neighbors.
“We have to be careful,” said a user of LIHKG, a Reddit-style forum in Hong Kong, which is known for its pro-democracy stance.
“Do [authorities] feel like there are not enough people emigrating from Hong Kong,” asked another.
Police also launched a reporting hotline dedicated to national security law offenses in 2020.
In its first year of operation, the hotline received an average of 550 messages a day over violations of the law, which critics say curtails freedom of speech.