Apple is 'assessing' human rights impact of Hong Kong's new national security law, but has not paused data requests from local police

  • On Monday, Facebook, Google, and Twitter suspended data requests from Hong Kong police. It follows China unilaterally passing a sweeping new national security law in the semi-autonomous city.
  • Apple said it is "assessing" the impact of the law on human rights, but stopped short of promising to pause data-processing requests from local authorities.
  • An Apple spokesperson told Bloomberg that it was up to the US Department of Justice to block requests that might infringe on human rights, under Mutual Legal Assistance Treaties.
  • The same treaties apply to Facebook, Google, and Twitter.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

Tech giants Facebook, Google, and Twitter have announced they're temporarily suspending data requests from police in Hong Kong while they evaluate the human rights impact of sweeping new security law passed by China last week. Apple appears to be taking a softer stance.

An Apple spokesperson told Bloomberg the company is "assessing" the impact of the law, which allows police to crack down on any form of government subversion. The company said nothing about suspending data requests from local law enforcement, but said it had not received requests for Hong Kong users' data since the new law took effect.

Apple's transparency report shows that from January to June 2019, it responded to 358 requests for device data from Hong Kong, 155 requests for financial data, and two requests for access to users' accounts. Apple approved 91% of the device data requests, 68% of the financial requests, and both the account requests.

The spokesperson implied it would be up to the US Department of Justice to block requests that might infringe on human rights.

"Apple has always required that all content requests from local law enforcement authorities be submitted through the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty in place between the United States and Hong Kong […] the US Department of Justice reviews Hong Kong authorities' requests for legal conformance," they said.

Mutual Legal Assistance Treaties (MLATs) allow specific countries outside the US to request data from US tech companies for law enforcement. Requests take an average of ten months to process, and the treaties applies to Google, Facebook, and Twitter as well as Apple.

Apple did not immediately respond when contacted by Business Insider for further comment.

Apple has a much greater market presence in China than Facebook, Google, and Twitter. A large chunk of Apple's manufacturing takes place in China, a fact that put the company in the crossfire during the US-China trade war, during which it managed to dodge tariffs on its components.

Facebook and Twitter are behind the Great Firewall, meaning they can't operate in mainland China. Google withdrew many of its services from China in 2010 — although the company's Android operating system is still used on handheld devices.

Apple's policy decisions around Hong Kong have drawn criticism before. In October last year, Apple removed an app from the App Store that let Hong Kong protesters mark and track police activity. CEO Tim Cook said in a leaked memo that Apple had received "credible information" the app was being used to target individual police officers for attack, but critics said it showed the firm was ceding to pressure from the Chinese government.

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