Spike in Google searches for ‘immigration’, ‘BNO passport’ and ‘VPN’ after Beijing said it will discuss a national security law for Hong Kong

Photo: Ruslan Bardash/Unsplash
Photo: Ruslan Bardash/Unsplash

Beijing’s announcement Thursday night that it is reviewing a national security law for Hong Kong prompted a spike in Google searches for “immigration,”BNO passport” and “VPN,” signalling public fear that the Central government could use looming legislation to take harsh action on the freewheeling city.

According to Google Trends analysis, there was a sharp increase in the number of Chinese searches for “immigration,” many of them paired with terms including “Taiwan,” “Canada,” and “UK” In addition to place-specific searches, many also looked up “conditions for immigration,” “international school” and “investment immigration.”

Searches for “immigration” started rising late Thursday afternoon when local media outlets reported that sources said Beijing is to unveil plans for a controversial national security law.

The searches peaked later in the evening after spokesperson for China’s National People’s Congress Zhang Yesui confirmed during a press conference that a “legal system and enforcement mechanism for safeguarding national security in Hong Kong” was on the agenda for a Friday meeting.

The law, which is expected to pass without deliberation in city’s legislature,  will reportedly target seditious activity, foreign interference, terrorism and subversion against the central government—essentially a version of the national security legislation that Article 23 of the Basic Law stipulates the city must enact, but has not been able to do so due to protest and opposition.

Searches for “BNO passport” rose similarly after the news from Beijing, suggesting any interest among many in renewing the limited edition travel document. The BNO passport was issued to Hong Kong residents before the 1997 handover and allows holders some privilege, such as the ability to travel to Britain visa-free for up to six months.

BNO passport renewals reportedly rose during the months of sometimes violent anti-government protests that began last summer, with local media publishing guides and walk-throughs on what the BNO passport is and how to renew it.

Searches for non-immigration terms like “VPN,” or virtual private networks, also surged following news about the national security law. Such private networks allow users to hide their online activity and identity from internet providers. According to data provider SensorTower, VPN represented seven of the 10 most-downloaded apps in Apple’s Hong Kong app store, excluding games, on Thursday, Bloomberg reports.

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