Facebook, Google suspend processing govt data from Hong Kong

Google, Twitter suspended reviews of data requests as soon as the law was enacted

hong_kong Anti-national security law protesters march at the anniversary of Hong Kong's handover to China from Britain, in Hong Kong, China | Reuters

Major tech companies, including Facebook, Google and Twitter have suspended processing government requests for user data in Hong Kong after China established the sweeping new national security law for the semi-autonomous city, a Reuters report read.

Facebook said it was pausing reviews for all of its services, “pending further assessment of the National Security Law”. Social networks have often applied localised restrictions to posts that violate local laws but not their own rules for acceptable speech. As per the transparency report, in the second half of 2019, Facebook restricted 394 pieces of content in Hong Kong, up from eight in the first half of the year.

Google and Twitter said they suspended reviews of data requests as soon as authorities in Hong Kong enacted the law last week. Google, however, maintained that it would continue reviewing requests from the government for removal of certain user-generated content from its site.

On Monday, Hong Kong authorities ruled that the police have the power to take down internet posts and punish internet companies that do not comply with data requests. And if the company doesn’t comply with requests for user data, the authorities can arrest employees of the internet companies. As the new rules are applicable across the globe, the tech companies are faced with the prospect having to choose between releasing data on people writing from places like the United States or face a six-month jail sentence for an employee.

Apple said it requires Hong Kong to request for user content under a mutual US-Hong Kong legal assistance treaty. Apple added that it makes an exception to working through legal assistance treaties for “emergency requests,” which it defines in part as "circumstance(s) involving imminent and serious threat(s) to .. the security of a State."

It is not sure whether the tech companies have agreed to cooperate with the law long term or this is just a temporary pause in fielding government requests. There is fear that the current law will lead to more stringent control like a complete ban of Facebook, Google and Twitter.