Hong Kong police will launch an anti-terrorism hotline on Wednesday, which comes with rewards for tips, raising fears it could incite paranoia and spying on its fellow citizens.
In a press release on Tuesday, police said the hotline – 6366-6999 – is aimed at encouraging the public to provide information about terrorism or violence-related crimes.
The force launched an anti-violence hotline for the public to provide information to help prevent and detect crime following the 2019 social unrest, in which police cracked down on multiple conspiracies attacks related to firearms and explosives.
“Since then, the hotline has responded to numerous reports from enthusiastic citizens,” the statement said.
The force also noted that while Hong Kong’s law and order “has generally regained stability” after Beijing imposed the National Security Law in 2020, “local extremist activities have gone underground and become more secrets”.
Police arrested a number of people in two separate cases last month for allegedly spreading violent language online, attempting to build deadly weapons and planning violent attacks. A variety of weapons, large batches of equipment and raw materials for the manufacture of explosives were also seized during the operations, according to the authorities.
“All of this illustrates that local extremists are hidden in the community and remain a potential security threat to Hong Kong,” the statement said.
As such, police said they have transformed their anti-violence hotline into a counter-terrorism reporting hotline, operated by the Interdepartmental Counter-Terrorism Unit.
“The new hotline number is easier to remember and its first stage will include SMS and WeChat notification features,” the force said.
The statement went on to say that the operations of the hotline would be reviewed from time to time and authorities would expand the number of reporting channels as needed to further facilitate reporting by the public.
In addition to acts of violence, the public can also report suspected terrorism-related activity around them, particularly extremist conspiracies, through this enhanced hotline, police said.
“Reporting such acts without delay will help prevent and combat extremist activity more effectively,” they added.
In order to encourage the public to report, the police plan to reward those who provide reliable information on terrorism.
“Regardless of the means of reporting, while information provided by the public is of crucial assistance in the detection of terrorism-related crimes, [the unit] once the prosecution is initiated for the infractions, will evaluate and determine the amounts of the rewards according to a rigorous mechanism,” the force said.
They also stated that the data collected will be strictly handled in accordance with the Personal Data (Privacy) Ordinance and will not be provided to third parties.
Some netizens have worried about the impact of a law that could reward spying on neighbors.
“We have to be careful,” said a user of LIHKG, a Reddit-style forum in Hong Kong known for its pro-democracy stance.
“Do [authorities] the impression that there are not enough people emigrating from Hong Kong,” another asked.
Police also launched a National Security Act Violations Hotline in 2020.
In its first year of operation, the hotline received an average of 550 messages a day about violations of the law, which critics say restricts free speech.