30-year-old American Edward Snowden, a contract employee at the National Security Agency, is the whistleblower behind significant revelations that surfaced in June 2013 about the US government's top secret, extensive domestic surveillance programmes. Snowden flew to Hong Kong from Hawaii in May 2013, and supplied confidential US government documents to media outlets including the Guardian.
Editorial: Snowden made the right move
Edward Snowden, the world's best-known whistle-blower and fugitive, is out of our hands and far away. He left his hiding-place in Hong Kong yesterday morning and flew out after the US filed espionage charges and asked our government to send him back. Washington's legal documents have been found wanting and a request for further information has been sought; the clarification, if forwarded, will obviously come too late. There could be no better outcome for our city and China.
Snowden's choice of Hong Kong to hole up in while he revealed who America was spying on and how its surveillance operations were conducted was genius. He broke cover just days after presidents Xi Jinping and Barack Obama had agreed at their maiden summit to cultivate stronger ties based on mutual trust. Hong Kong, the former intelligence agency contractor explained, had a sturdy rule of law, free media and proud tradition of protest - attributes he considered were in his favour for a fair hearing. Being in China at a sensitive time for relations with the US, but in a place where the "one country, two systems" model gave him a global voice and the possibility of protection was a clever strategy.
Hong Kong and Beijing were put in a bind. A Sunday Morning Post survey found that 49.9 per cent of Hongkongers were against Snowden being returned to face charges. Should he not be handed over under the terms of a treaty and the case go through the courts - a process that could last up to five years - relations with the US would likely sour. Similarly, while Chinese authorities were secretly pleased that the hypocrisy of US claims of Beijing's cyberspying had come home to roost, to intervene would jeopardise diplomatic gains.
That officials here and in Beijing kept their cool is admirable. Documents released by Snowden show that the US' National Security Agency not only intercepted the phone and internet records of Americans, but also spied on Hong Kong-based telecommunications firms and Chinese institutions, companies and citizens. Anger at such uninvited intrusions should be expected; instead, there was calm and silence.
Whatever we think of Snowden or his tactics, he has served us well by sparking the much-needed debate on government access to personal data. His departure from our city closes the Hong Kong chapter of his story; our government did as it should and Beijing was wise to keep a distance. The best interests of the nation and Hong Kong have been served.