Swede snoop tech firm pulls plug on HK sales

Top News | BLOOMBERG and STAFF REPORTER 25 Sep 2020

A Swedish firm that supplies law enforcement and government agencies with technology to extract data from mobile phones has pulled its business from Hong Kong.

The decision by Stockholm-based Micro Systemation came after a White House executive order on July 14 stripped Hong Kong of its special trading status.

Micro Systemation executive Mike Dickinson said the firm would no longer "supply solutions" to the Cyber Security and Technology Crime Bureau of the Hong Kong police nor any other government agency in the territory.

Micro Systemation pulled its business from the mainland earlier this year due to changes in "regulatory regimes and restrictions."

Dickinson said: "Having reviewed how this could impact our business operations in the region, we have decided to make the strategic decision to cease all business operations in Hong Kong and China."

The company opened an office in the mainland in 2013, which yielded a "huge order" from Beijing for its data extraction gear.

In addition, its technology was used by Hong Kong authorities to examine the phone contents of democracy activist Joshua Wong Chi-fung after he was arrested in October last year, according to a police report submitted to the activist during court proceedings earlier this year.

And Micro Systemation had been in line for more business from the Hong Kong government.

Law-enforcement agencies and technology firms have said they need to hack into mobile phones to track communications of potentially dangerous criminals and thwart drug, sex or child traffickers.

But similar technology has also been used by authoritarian regimes against dissidents, journalists and others - a growing worry in Hong Kong.

Another firm whose technology was identified in the Wong case as being used by Hong Kong authorities, Israel-based Cellebrite, is also facing pressure.

Human rights lawyer Eitay Mack has filed a petition with an Israeli court to halt the company's exports to Hong Kong.

"We cannot talk any more about an independent court or law enforcement in Hong Kong," Mack said.

"Unfortunately," he also wrote in an appeal to Israeli ministries, "the services that Cellebrite has previously provided to the Hong Kong police are no longer legitimate and legal."

Cellebrite had "strong licensing policies in place that govern how our technology may be utilized," a spokeswoman said.

Micro Systemation and Cellebrite were among eight firms identified in a recently leaked proposal whose technology was sought by Hong Kong police. The proposal was dated July 15 - two weeks after the new security legislation was enacted.

An online news portal reported on July 25 that the cyber bureau sought to purchase technology to search for evidence on mobile phones and other electronic devices.

Besides Micro Systemation and Cellebrite, a tender also sought technology from Germany's X-Ways Software Technology, US-based Agile Risk Management, British-based Blackrainbow, Canada's Magnet Forensics and mainland firm XLY Salvationdata.

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