Latham limits access to global databases for Hong Kong lawyers 

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By Rhys Duncan on


US giant revokes automatic access ahead of national security law changes

US law firm Latham & Watkins is reportedly discontinuing automatic access to its international databases for lawyers based in Hong Kong, amid plans to introduce heightened anti-espionage and data laws in the region.

Lawyers have been informed that starting this month, they will require specific permission to access both private and non-private files from the firm’s global databases, the Financial Times (£) reports.

As part of the move, data from the firm’s Beijing and Hong Kong offices will be pooled into a “Greater China” database, separate from the firm’s Asian outposts in Seoul, Singapore and Tokyo, as well as its global bases across the US, Europe and Middle East.

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The report goes on to note that while “it is already considered best practice to wall off confidential client data….the move will mean staff in Hong Kong no longer have default access even to non-private files from outside China”.

The reported move comes just weeks after Hong Kong’s government unveiled plans to introduce new data security laws to prohibit treason, sabotage, sedition, the theft of state secrets and espionage. If introduced, the new laws will also lead to stricter oversight on foreign political entities and organisations operating in Hong Kong, Reuters reports.

The Financial Times goes on to quote an unnamed source who claims the firm is now “treating Hong Kong as the same as mainland China”, adding: “There’s definitely a concern over the new [Hong Kong security law] . . . that essentially puts Hong Kong data laws on par with China’s.”

Latham has been approached for comment.

Last summer, Dentons cut ties with its Chinese arm, Dacheng Law Offices (大成), citing changes to Chinese security laws.

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