Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying returned to Hong Kong last night to find himself at the centre of a brewing political storm over Edward Snowden's revelation of US cyber-hacking in the city and a heated debate over what the government should do with the whistle-blower.
Leung remained tight-lipped as he returned from his New York trip last night. "I am not commenting on individual cases," he said at the airport - the same response he gave seven times in an interview with Bloomberg television in the US
A government spokesman said "all cases will be handled in accordance with the laws of Hong Kong", adding that the administration had not received any reports of government departments being hacked.
Politicians and the public have expressed alarm at Snowden's claim that the US had launched hundreds of hacking operations targeting Hong Kong and the mainland since 2009, with targets allegedly including Chinese University, public officials, businesses and students.
Politicians from across the board, including the Beijing loyalist Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, are urging the government to demand the US address the allegations and stop surveillance operations.
The Democratic Party suggested the Legislative Council invite Snowden to give evidence.
"I am interested to know how vulnerable our cyber systems are and I want to ask Mr Snowden questions and verify his claims," said party member James To Kun-sun, vice-chairman of Legco's security panel.
"As long as what Mr Snowden says helps us monitor government work and Hong Kong's safety, we are entitled to know the truth."
Civic Party leader and lawyer Alan Leong Kah-kit said Snowden had raised a serious allegation that might suggest that Hong Kong people's phones, computers and other electronic devices might have been compromised by US government hacking.
"The Hong Kong government should really take the issue up and ask President [Barack] Obama whether it has been the case," he said. "It is the least it should do at the moment."
Others expressed concern over the possibility of Beijing intervening in the extradition process should the US seek Snowden's return.
Beijing-loyalist lawmaker Dr Priscilla Leung Mei-fun said Hong Kong should not give Snowden up to face what she said would be a political prosecution in the United States.
"But even if the decision is up to China, even China should not send Snowden back," she said.
But Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee, an Executive Council member and former security chief, said the government should not "act on hearsay" without concrete evidence - though she was not surprised by Snowden's allegation of US hacking in Hong Kong.
"The first thing the government should do is to strengthen its own computer security and collect evidence of such online attacks," she said. "It seems a bit naive for the government to act just on hearsay."
On Leong's suggestion that the matter should be raised with Obama, Ip said it was up to the administration to decide whether it would be beneficial to question the US. Their concerns are shared by businessmen and members of the public.
Brian Renwick, vice-chairman of the Employers' Federation, said he was worried about NSA's alleged hacking of Hong Kong companies. While anti-hacking software had been installed in his company's computers, he doubted its effectiveness since "anything can be hacked".
"It is appalling … especially when it is done by someone outside Hong Kong," Renwick said. He called on the government to look into the matter to protect local companies.
A rally tomorrow backing Snowden has drawn 17 local groups. But some international rights groups will not be there. Rosanne Rise, of Amnesty International Hong Kong, said it would focus on pressing the US to come clean on surveillance.
The Post conducted a straw poll of 23 locals and tourists in the city. Of those, 15 believed Snowden should be allowed to stay in Hong Kong, six thought otherwise and two had no opinion. The respondents were also reluctant to label Snowden either a hero or a traitor.
Additional reporting by Phila Siu, Lo Wei and Danny Lee
THE WORD ON THE STREET
The Post asked Hongkongers and visitors three questions about the Snowden case: 1) Do you think the government should send Edward Snowden back to the US? 2)Is he a traitor or a hero? 3) Are you worried about being spied on by the US government?
Candy Chan, 30, HR manager:
1) No. If he is seeking protection then I think the Hong Kong government should protect him. There should be some way to protect him. 2) I think he's neither. [But] I think he is doing what [he feels] is right. 3) I don't think I am at that level [to be spied on] but if I am at that level, I would be worried that someone is looking at my personal emails.
Simon Lee, 35, tourist from Britain:
1) No. He will be put in prison for a long time. He shouldn't go to prison because he hasn't broken a law. The public benefits from knowing. 2) He is a traitor to his country, to the rest of the world he's a hero. 3) I'm not worried, because I have nothing for them to spy on. But I don't like the thought of it. It's people's private information.
Erica Li, 19, student:
1) I don't think so, because I think what he's doing is out of justice. He's trying to tell people what the US government has been doing. 2) I think he is a hero … I don't think it's right to invade citizens' privacy. 3) I don't think I'm important enough to be spied upon. But I think it's possible that we are being spied upon by this 'Big Brother' figure.
Matthew Tape, 41, Australian tourist:
1) It depends on the law of Hong Kong. If it allows extradition, it should be followed. 2) Maybe he hasn't thought about that before doing it. I don't know the full story. It works both ways. 3) Probably it's not only the US government that's doing it, most governments in the world have personal data generation system in place. I don't agree with that practice.
Daniel Bilski, 42, banker:
1) It's a bit of a legal minefield. It depends on what the Hong Kong laws allow. … This is one case where they need to be very careful not to be unduly influenced or make any rash decisions. 2) I wouldn't call him either of those things. 3) Of course, everyone wants their basic rights and liberty and freedom. At the same time, we all know we're watched.
Erik Strong, 22, a Canadian working as a teaching intern on the mainland:
1) I think so. He's intruding on the Hong Kong government. It seems he's bringing his problems to another country. He should keep them in his own country. 2) I don't think he's either. What he did was his personal decision. It's not really of our concern. 3) Yes. We have our own privacy rights. The US is a democratic country and that is not a democratic thing to do. If a government intrudes into its people's privacy, that's dictatorship.
Matt Wright, 31, attorney:
1) I don't know if I have a view. 2) To some he's going to be a hero because he's going out uncovering what he believes are secrets the world should know. … Of course, you have to balance that with the interest of national security and the fact that the person … was entrusted with certain secrets. 3) It depends on the purpose, the extent. I do agree there is a balance … between security and privacy.
Robin Wagner, 47, American tourist:
1) I do. He signed a contract that he should not disclose the information and he broke the contract. He should face the consequences. 2) Traitor. He signed a contract and he should follow the contract. 3.) You should always think that they're looking at you. That's how it is.
Sydney Chow, 28, unemployed:
1) No. There's a reason why he came to Hong Kong: to protect his freedom of speech. I'm not quite sure, once he gets [to America], that he's going to get an absolutely fair trial. 2) He's a hero: because there's a motive behind [his actions]. But "villain"? I don't think that what he did is quite that bad. 3) Absolutely, it would make me feel awkward because it's my privacy and I want to protect it.
Lo Wei and Danny Lee