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.
Hong Kong divided over Snowden hacking claims
Edward Snowden’s claims that US hacking activities are targeting Hong Kong and mainland China have left the city split on whether to demand clarification from Washington.
Civil Party leader Alan Leong Kah-kit said the American whistle-blower had raised a serious allegation and believed Hong Kong should take the issue up with US President Barack Obama, while Executive Council member Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee said the government “could not act just on hearsay”.
Leong, also a senior counsel, said the claims might suggest Hongkongers’ communications by phone, internet and other electronic devices might have been compromised by hacking from the US government.
“The Hong Kong government should take the issue up and ask Obama whether it has been the case. It is the least it should do at the moment,” he said on Thursday, after Snowden told the Post that the US had been hacking networks in Hong Kong and on the mainland since 2009.
But Ip, also a former secretary for security, said: “It seems a bit naive for the government to act just on hearsay.”
However she also said she was not surprised by Snowden’s allegations about the reach of US National Security Agency’s surveillance programme.
“It came as no surprise to me given the technological advancement in the United States,” she said. “In the era of ‘big data’, it is not an easy thing to protect personal privacy.”
“The first thing the government should do is strengthen its own computer security and collect evidence of such online attacks,” Ip said, adding that it would be up to the government to decide whether raising the issue to the US would be beneficial.
Democratic Party chairwoman Emily Lau Wai-hing said that Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying should probe into Snowden’s claims.
“You should speak up if Hong Kong’s interest were being violated,” Lau said. “But we have to see if it’s true first … I hope [Snowden] and those who know can tell us what happened.”
But she appeared to disagree with party colleague James To Kun-sun, who was considering inviting Snowden to the Legislative Council to give evidence on his allegation of US hacking activities in Hong Kong.
“The most important thing for him [Snowden] is not to come to Legco and explain these things, he has other things to handle – especially because he could face an imminent arrest and extradition,” Lau said.
Legco could ask questions on the issue, but it might not have a big role to play, especially if the case goes to court, she said.
Video: What does Hong Kong think about Edward Snowden? by Silvio Carrillo and Vicky Feng
Charles Mok, an IT sector lawmaker, said the hacking said to target Chinese University could be referring to the Hong Kong Internet Exchange, a hub that interconnects the traffic by local internet service providers.
“It is the most convenient choice since it is the hub of all internet traffic within Hong Kong,” he said, noting that hacking activities could be untraceable.
Snowden told the Post that he planned to stay in Hong Kong until he was “asked to leave”.
“I have had many opportunities to flee Hong Kong, but I would rather stay and fight the United States government in the courts, because I have faith in Hong Kong’s rule of law,” he said.
The Civic Party’s Leong said he believed it had been too late for the US government and the central government to strike any “secret deals” to extradite Snowden.
“The fact that everyone in the world knows that Snowden is in Hong Kong makes any under-the-table arrangement impossible. Any such arrangements would reflect badly on Hong Kong and the central government,” he said.
Leong cited the Fugitive Offenders Ordinance, saying that Beijing would intervene only if Hong Kong’s court granted a US request for extradition. In the event that the court would rule in favour of extradition, Hong Kong’s chief executive would have to ask Beijing before signing off.
“There [may be] no opportunity for Beijing to direct the chief executive to send Snowden off,” Leong said.
Ip said the US government had the right to submit requests for the surrender of fugitive offenders, according to the 1996 law.
“There is rule of law in Hong Kong, and we will follow due process,” she said, responding to Snowden’s claim that the US government was “bullying” Hong Kong for his surrender. “He can defend himself in court by that time.”