Edward Snowden

Hong Kong lawmakers demand answers on cyberspying

Alleged hacking of computer networks unites lawmakers; US consulate issues security warning to Americans living in Hong Kong

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 15 June, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 15 June, 2013, 8:22pm

Political pressure is mounting on the government to demand answers from the United States over how and to what extent Hong Kong has been targeted by Washington's top-secret cyberspying programme, exposed by whistle-blower Edward Snowden.

The clamour for information comes two days after ex-CIA analyst Snowden - who is hiding out in the city - told the South China Morning Post in an exclusive interview the US had been hacking computers in Hong Kong and on the mainland "for years".

Lawmakers from across the political spectrum yesterday weighed in on the growing controversy ahead of a rally today outside the US consulate. The planned protest in support of 29-year-old Snowden prompted the consulate to issue a rare security warning to US residents in the city and tell its diplomatic staff to stay away from the mission's headquarters in Garden Road, Central, unless they are on "official business".

Snowden said secret and illegal attacks on Hong Kong computers by the US National Security Agency, which he said had been taking place since 2009, had recorded a success rate of more than 75 per cent. One of the targets he identified was the Chinese University of Hong Kong, home to the Hong Kong Internet Exchange - a central hub of servers that most web traffic in the city passes through.

Yesterday the British government issued a warning to airlines around the world not to allow Snowden to fly to the UK.

During an official visit to London, Legislative Council president Jasper Tsang Yok-sing became one of the city's first top political figures to comment on the hacking allegations.

"Hong Kong people will feel worried if the allegations are found to be backed by facts," Tsang told the BBC's Chinese Service, adding: "The Hong Kong government should launch an investigation. But even if a probe is conducted, it will not be made public."

Pro-Beijing lawmaker Ma Fung-kwok has filed an urgent written question to the administration, demanding details of the alleged hacking.

He asked: "What will the government do to ensure it will not happen again? Will it take action against the US government or demand remedies?"

Security minister Lai Tung-kwok is expected to address the question in the Legislative Council on Wednesday.

The Democratic Party has suggested inviting Snowden to Legco to question him over his claims, and Civic Party leader Alan Leong Kah-kit urged the chief executive to raise the matter with President Barack Obama. It is understood an appearance in Legco by Snowden is considered unlikely due to security fears.

The Hong Kong government has refused to say whether the US has made a request to surrender Snowden.

In his BBC interview, Tsang insisted that the Hong Kong courts would "act independently" according to the law and "make a correct judgment".

"I do not think the incident will put any pressure on Hong Kong," the Legco president said. "If the case involves foreign affairs and national defence, it will be handled according to the Basic Law [which makes it Beijing's responsibility]."

In a move to support Snowden, pan-democratic lawmakers Claudia Mo Man-ching and Gary Fan Kwok-wai wrote a letter to the White House yesterday and pleaded for mercy for him.