Google confirms handing data to HK govt in second half of 2020


Google has responded to the Hong Kong government's request in the second half of 2020 to provide user data, making it one of the first foreign tech giants to respond to requests from the Hong Kong authority for user data after the national security law was enacted in June 2020.

In its Transparency Report, Google said it received 43 requests made by the government for disclosure of user information, and 7% of them or three requests of the data was shared. According to Hong Kong Free Press, it cited a response from Google that one of the requests was an emergency disclosure request involving a credible threat to life. The remaining two Google complied with involved human trafficking as it said the two requests were unrelated to national security and were supported by search warrants signed by a magistrate as part of an investigation. Google said these two requests were processed according to its global policy on government requests for user information.

The same report also highlighted that none of the responses included users’ content data. Google said it carefully reviews government requests for user information to make sure it satisfies applicable laws. If a request asks for too much information, Google tries to narrow it, and even object to producing any information at all. 

The latest disclosure of data means that Google resumed its compliance with at least some user data requests from the Hong Kong government. Last year, Google said it would not respond to any request from the Hong Kong government unless the requests were made through the bilateral Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty (MLAT) with the US Justice Department.  Meanwhile, in the same report, a total of 42 other legal requests were made by the Hong Kong government in the second half of 2020, involving 46 user accounts. 

Last year, Google, along with other tech giants such as Twitter, said they had paused all data and information requests from the Hong Kong government before the enactment of the national security law. Google also said it would stop responding directly to user data requests from the Hong Kong government too. 

However, prior to the national security law, Google responded to many of the Hong Kong government's requests for information. For example, in the first half of 2020, it responded to 135 requests, or 81% of the total number, from the government for disclosure of user information, involving 327 accounts in total. Also, in the second half of 2019, Google responded to 48 requests, or 77%, of the requests from the Hong Kong government too. 

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