The law has drawn harsh criticism from Washington, where the Trump administration last week imposed sanctions on Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam, and other senior officials in Hong Kong and mainland China for their roles in suppressing political disputes.
Google notified Hong Kong police on Thursday that it would instead direct officials to pursue any data requests through a Mutual Legal Aid Treaty with the United States, a cumbersome process in which claims are handled through the Department of Justice and which may last weeks or months.
Under national security law, those who assist or protect suspects accused of violating the law, or refuse to enforce authorities on national security requirements, may also face arrest. Google is one of the US technology companies based in Hong Kong.
China has suspended Hong Kong̵7;s legal aid treaty with countries including Britain, Canada and Australia in response to those countries suspending their extradition treaties with Hong Kong. But the territory legal aid treaty with the United States, however, still remains, though President Trump in an executive order in July said he would move 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 passed national security law. Technology companies said they were concerned about the human rights implications of continuing to meet the demands of the Hong Kong government.
A Google spokesman said the company “has not produced data in response to new requests from Hong Kong authorities” since the security law was passed and that “the case remains”.
“As always, authorities outside the US may request data necessary for criminal investigations through diplomatic procedures. We carefully review all requests for user data and push them too broadly to protect the privacy of our users.” added the spokesman.
Hong Kong police did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
In a statement to the Washington Post after tech companies suspended reviews of user data, a police spokesman said the force “will continue to seek information or cooperation” from relevant organizations including service providers to assist 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 stop reviewing claims in the meantime.
Google is blocked in mainland China but accessible in Hong Kong. By refusing to review Hong Kong government requests for data through its normal process, Google seems to be acknowledging the broad opportunity the law gave China in Hong Kong.
National security law has already had a sharp pervasive effect in Hong Kong. Shortly after his passing, residents began deleting their social media accounts and some activists fled the city. This week saw the harshest use of the new law since it came into force, with arrests of media mogul Jimmy Lai, his sons, young activist Agnes Chow and six others, and a police raid on Apple Daily offices, a pro-democracy newspaper owned by Next Digital, the Lai company founded.
Google has had a largely cordial relationship with China, where it operates an artificial intelligence office. U.S. Republican lawmakers have accused Google of being too comfortable with China and collaborating with the Chinese military, which Google has repeatedly denied.
The company’s decision to move any data request to established diplomatic processes between Hong Kong and the United States also comes at a time of particularly weak relations between the two. Last week, the U.S. in a swift move sanctioned 11 Hong Kong and Chinese officials for undermining the city’s autonomy. The Hong Kong government called the move “shameful and disgusting” and said it would support measures against the United States.
Mahtani reported from Hong Kong.