Google is now treating requests from Hong Kong authorities the same as it does those from mainland China.
It will stop responding to requests for data from Hong Kong authorities with the search giant instead directing requests for user data to a Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty with the United States that is done in conjunction with the Department of Justice.
The move, first reported by The Washington Post, comes after a new national security law imposed by China curbed political expression. Although Hong Kong officials have said that the law would only target a “small minority,” human rights groups such as Amnesty International are concerned that police will use the new law as a way to crack down on government critics with those that are found guilty potentially facing life imprisonment.
Google, Facebook and Twitter each announced in July that they were pausing the review of the Hong Kong government requests for user data to study the new law, with Google now taking the next step in stopping responding directly.
“Since the new national security law was enacted in June, we have not produced data in response to new requests from Hong Kong authorities and that remains the case,” a Google spokesperson tells CNET in a statement.
“As always, authorities outside the US may seek data needed for criminal investigations through diplomatic procedures. We carefully review all requests for user data and push back on overly broad ones to protect our users’ privacy.”
Sending requests through the treaty with the Department of Justice is described by the Post as a “cumbersome process” that “can take weeks or months.” The paper notes that China has suspended Hong Kong’s legal assistance treaties with a number of countries including Britain, Canada and Australia after those countries suspended extradition treaties with Hong Kong.
While the US currently has an extradition treaty, President Donald Trump announced in July that through an executive order he would “begin the process of eliminating policy exemptions that give Hong Kong different and special treatment” including with regards to extradition.
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