On July 1st Beijing imposed a sweeping National Security law in Hong Kong that gave the Chinese government overwhelming control over legal proceedings, the press, school, social organizations, and more in the semi-autonomous region, including the freedom to crack down on critics and dissidents.
Following the imposed law, tech-giants like Twitter, Google, and others said they would stop processing requests for user data from Hong Kong due to concern that Bejing would interfere. They feared the data would end up in China’s hands for illegitimate purposes. Apple however stayed silent, saying it was assessing the law but made no confirmation or pledge for user data, unlike others.
Today, TechCrunch reports that an Apple spokesperson reiterated to the outlet that it has never processed requests for user data from Hong Kong directly. Instead, it circumvents the concern that other tech-giants have by processing the requests through a mutual-US legal assistance treaty that reviews requests for user data from foreign countries before handing them over.
On top of the legal treaty, Apple says that data for Hong Kong users are stored in the United States, so either way, requests must be approved by the Justice Department before being handed over. This eliminates any concerns that the new National Security law could be used by China to gather information about Hong Kong users via Apple.
Apple does not state how many specfic requests for user data it has received since July 1st when the new National Security law was imposed, however, it says it is “limited”. The exact number according to the company will be included in an upcoming transparency report.
According to Apple’s latest transparency report out Friday, Hong Kong authorities made 604 requests for device information, 310 requests for financial data, and 10 requests for user account data during 2019.
The report also said that Apple received 5,295 requests from U.S. authorities during the second half of last year for data related to 80,235 devices, a seven-fold increase from the previous six months. Apple also received 4,095 requests from U.S. authorities for user data stored in iCloud on 31,780 accounts, double from the number of accounts affected during the previous six months.TechCrunch