The act has met with fierce criticism from Washington, where the Trump administration last week imposed sanctions on Hong Kong executives, Carrie Lam and other senior officials in Hong Kong and Mainland China about their role in suppressing dissent.
On Thursday, Google informed Hong Kong police that it would direct officials to pursue any request for data through its Mutual Justice Treaty with the United States, a complicated process in which The request is referred to the Department of Justice and may take weeks or months.
Under national security law, those who assist or defend suspects accused of violating the law, or refuse to comply with requirements related to national security, may also be arrested. Google is one of the US technology companies with employees working in Hong Kong.
China suspended Hong Kong̵7;s mutual legal assistance treaty with countries including the UK, Canada and Australia, in response to these countries suspending their extradition treaty with Hong Kong. However, the territory’s mutual legal assistance treaty with the United States remains in effect, even though President Trump in an executive order in July said he would switch to suspend the extradition treaty with Hong Kong.
Google, along with Facebook and Twitter, stopped reviewing user data requests from Hong Kong in July after China enacted national security laws. Tech companies say they are concerned about the human rights impact of continuing to comply with Hong Kong government requests.
A Google spokesperson said the company has “not provided data to respond to new requests from the Hong Kong government” since the privacy law was enacted and that “is still the cause”.
“As always, authorities outside of the United States can find the data necessary for criminal investigations through diplomatic procedures. We carefully review all requests for user data and push back requests that are too broad to protect users’ privacy, ”added the spokesperson.
Hong Kong police did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
In a statement to The Washington Post after the tech companies first suspended the review of user data, a police spokesman said the force would “continue to request information or concur. authorizations from relevant organizations including service providers to assist with investigations and will do so in accordance with established privacy laws and guidelines.
Tech companies regularly review government requests for data as part of law enforcement investigations and evaluate them on a case-by-case basis. In July, Google spokesperson Riva Sciuto said the company was working to “review the details” of Chinese law and would suspend review of the requests in the meantime.
Google is blocked in mainland China, but accessible in Hong Kong. By refusing to review the Hong Kong government’s requests for data through its normal process, Google appears to be acknowledging the vast extent that the law has given China into Hong Kong.
National security law was in widespread force in Hong Kong. As soon as it passed, residents started deleting their social media accounts and some activists fled the city. This week saw the harshest use of the new law since it went into effect, with the arrest of media tycoon Jimmy Lai, his sons, young activist Agnes Chow and six others, and a police raid into the office of Apple Daily, a newspaper pro-democracy organization owned by Next Digital, the company Lai founded.
Google has a close relationship with China, where it runs an artificial intelligence office. Republican lawmakers have accused Google of being too close to China and cooperating with the Chinese military, something Google has repeatedly denied.
The company’s decision to move any data requests to established diplomatic processes between Hong Kong and the United States also comes at a time of particularly bad relations between the two sides. Last week, the United States in an unusually quick move punished 11 Hong Kong and Chinese officials for undermining the city’s autonomy. The Hong Kong government called the move “shameful and despicable” and said it would support measures to deal with the United States.
Mahtani reports from Hong Kong.