New Protest Tactics in Hong Kong

Rory Byrne
Aug 28, 2019 · 4 min read

Part of our work training and advising activists and journalists in Security First involves spending lots of time analysing global movements to see what we can learn and improve in Umbrella App.

The recent protests in Hong Kong have been one of the most remarkable for the amount of new innovative tactics used by protests. We’ve been keeping a running Twitter thread here but also wanted to have them in one single place.

(Update 04-Sept-2019: some people on Twitter have suggested we are endorsing these measures, which is most definitely not the case. It’s worth remembering that just because these are new tactics, it doesn’t necessarily mean they are suitable, well thought through or accurate reflections of what is happening widely on the ground. In fact, there are many ways that some of these could go very badly for protesters and result in harm to them. This is a list of interesting stuff not a risk/threat assessment, training or guide!)


Using Telegram to coordinate protests.(Note: we are not massive fans of Telegram security for various reasons such as these and these but do understand that it solves a number of problems that alternatives like Signal do not. For example public group messaging.

https://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/article/3014255/facebook-and-twitter-telegram-whatsapp-and-signal-how-protest

Sophisticated coordination and communication of crowds using hand signals. (Update 04-Sept-2019: apparently this hadn’t been used widely though some of them where used during protests in July) (Update 01–Oct-2019: it seems the hand signals are now being used again at some protests.)

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Using Apple Airdrop to quickly and anonymously pass information to others. (Here’s how)

Disabling Apple Face ID when arrested. (Here’s how)

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https://www.nytimes.com/2019/07/26/technology/hong-kong-protests-facial-recognition-surveillance.html

Making it harder for authorities to monitor, respond and control protests by adopting the Bruce Lee tactic of “Be Water.” Moving quickly to new spaces faster than police can react.

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A banner used by a Hong Kong protester. Photo credit Mary Hui.

Use of water, traffic cones and woks to reduce the effects of CS/Tear gas

Using umbrellas to block camera photos, CCTV and facial recognition

Using and swapping tickets bought with cash and changing clothing to make it harder to identify protesters

Dismantling a “smart lamppost” because of risks it was being used for surveillance technology

Using various non regular communication apps to spread information about protests. (Warning: this may be likely to be insecure)

Using symbols to warn protesters of the current status of an area

(update 04-Sept-2019 — apparently this isn’t a protester tactic, it’s commonly used by HK Police to warn)

Using laser lights to blind cameras and frustrate police


Got any more tactics that you are seeing? Drop us a mail at info@secfirst.org or DM us on Twitter.


For activists, journalists and people at risk, we have launched Umbrella, a free, open source app to help learn about and manage physical and digital security on the move. It has best practice advice on topics such as safely attending a protest (including some of the tactics above), dealing with arrest, surveillance, travelling through borders, sending a secure message — and much more.

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Example of the one of the Protest Lessons in Umbrella

You can find out more about Umbrella on our website. download it from the Apple Store, Google Play Store, Amazon or F-Droid. We are also currently testing a web version of the app here.

Umbrella is currently available in Chinese Traditional thanks to the work of the amazing volunteers from the Localization Lab in Taiwan. If you are interested in localising it for people on the ground in Hong Kong or have ideas for new content — please sign up to our translation platform, read our content guide or email us.

A short introduction to Umbrella App.

If you can spare a few minutes, we would love your feedback on how to make it better.


We also regularly train journalists and human rights defenders ranging from some of the largest NGOs in the world, to individuals activists — on digital, physical and source protection security issues. For more information check out our website at www.secfirst.org.

Rory Byrne

Written by

Co-Founder of @_securityfirst, building tools for the security of human rights defenders. Helped setup and was Head of Security & Research @_videre for 5 years

Rory Byrne

Written by

Co-Founder of @_securityfirst, building tools for the security of human rights defenders. Helped setup and was Head of Security & Research @_videre for 5 years

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