A little over one month after Google parent Alphabet, Facebook and Twitter said they would temporarily cease processing police or other official requests for user data in Hong Kong in retaliation for the controversial National Security law, Google has apparently confirmed to the Washington Post that these changes are now permanent, and that it will permanently cease processing all such requests, effectively treating Hong Kong the same as mainland China, a market that Google left years ago, though the search giant is reportedly plotting its return.
Instead of processing these requests itself, Google notified Hong Kong police on Thursday that it would instead direct officials to pursue any requests for data through a Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty with the US, a difficult process, which would eventually lead to these "Requests" being processed by the American DoJ.
"As always, authorities outside the US may seek data needed for criminal investigations through diplomatic procedures,” Google said in a statement emailed to Reuters.
China, meanwhile, is suspending Hong Kong's "legal assistance" treaty with other countries, including Britain and Canada, as these and others suspended their extradition treaties with Hong Kong. While the US treaty still technically stands, Trump has moved to suspend it via executive order.
However, as HK police arrest Jimmy Lai and sympathizers declare the death of press freedoms in Hong Kong, it seems nothing can stop the national security law from having "a widespread chilling effect" in HK.
The national security law already has had a widespread chilling effect in Hong Kong. Immediately after its passage, 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 took effect, with the arrests of media tycoon Jimmy Lai, his sons, young activist Agnes Chow and six others, and a police raid 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 cozy with China and working with the Chinese military, which Google has continually denied.
The move comes after the US moved to sanction HK Chief Executive Carrie Lam, and other top Chinese and HK officials, over their role in adopting and enforcing the new law.