The law has drawn harsh criticism from Washington, where the Trump administration last week imposed sanctions on Hong Kong CEO Carrie Lam and other high-ranking officials in Hong Kong and mainland China for their roles in suppressing political disagreement.
Google informed Hong Kong police on Thursday that it would instead refer officials to pursue any requests for data through a mutual legal aid treaty with the United States, a cumbersome process where requests are routed through the Department of Justice and which can take weeks or months. .
Under national security law, those who assist or protect suspects accused of violating the law or refusing to comply with authorities on national security requests may also be arrested. Google is among the US technology companies with employees based in Hong Kong.
China has suspended Hong Kong̵
Google, along with Facebook and Twitter, stopped reviewing user data requests from Hong Kong in July after China enacted national security legislation. Tech companies said they were concerned about the human rights consequences of continuing to comply with Hong Kong government requests.
A Google spokesman said the company had not “produced data in response to new requests from Hong Kong authorities” since the Security Act was passed and that “remains the case.”
“As always, authorities outside the United States can seek data necessary for criminal investigation through diplomatic procedures. We carefully review all requests for user data and push back too far to protect our users’ privacy, ”the spokesman added.
Hong Kong police did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
In a statement to The Washington Post, after technology companies first suspended reviews for user data, a police spokesman said the force “continues to request information or cooperation” from relevant organizations, including service providers to help with investigations, and will do so in accordance with the law and established privacy guidelines.
Technology companies regularly review government data requests as part of law enforcement investigations and evaluate them on a case-by-case basis. In July, Google spokeswoman Riva Sciuto said the company was working to “review the details” of Chinese law and would temporarily halt the review of requests in the meantime.
Google is blocked in mainland China but available in Hong Kong. By refusing to review Hong Kong government requests for data through its normal process, Google appears to be acknowledging the broad reach that the law gave China to Hong Kong.
The National Security Act has already had a widespread cooling in Hong Kong. Immediately after the passage, residents began deleting their social media accounts, and some activists fled the city. This week was the toughest application of the new law since it came into force, with the arrests of media mycon Jimmy Lai, his sons, young activist Agnes Chow and six others, and a police attack on the offices of Apple Daily, a pro-democracy newspaper owned by Next Digital, the company Lai founded.
Google has had a mostly cordial relationship with China, where it operates an artificial intelligence office. U.S. Republican lawmakers have accused Google of being too nice to China and collaborating with the Chinese military, which Google has consistently denied.
The company’s decision to move all requests for data to established diplomatic processes between Hong Kong and the United States also comes at a time of particularly poor relations between the two. Last week, the United States sanctioned 11 Hong Kong and Chinese officials in an unusually swift move to undermine the city’s autonomy. The Hong Kong government called the move “shameless and contemptible” and said it would support countermeasures against the United States.
Mahtani reported from Hong Kong.