Hong Kong civic groups plan a protest against any U.S. efforts to extradite Edward Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor who has admitted revealing a secret U.S. electronic surveillance program.
At least 14 groups, including the Civil Human Rights Front and the League of Social Democrats, will demonstrate June 15 at the U.S. consulate in Hong Kong and the city government’s headquarters in support of Snowden, who is in the city at an undisclosed location.
“We ask the U.S. government not to seek extradition of Snowden because he isn’t an offender,” said Leung Kwok-hung, a Hong Kong lawmaker and chairman of the League of Social Democrats. “He was speaking from his conscience.”
Snowden’s disclosures to the U.K.’s Guardian and the Washington Post about the NSA’s collection of telephone and Internet data -- revealed last week -- have sparked both lawmaker calls for his prosecution and a debate about the extent of government spying on citizens. Hong Kong has an extradition agreement with the U.S., and Snowden may have breached the city’s laws if he passed on secrets since his arrival, according to Simon Young, a law professor at the University of Hong Kong.
“It might be possible that any surveillance activities that took place in Hong Kong arose as a result of information provided confidentially by the Chinese or Hong Kong governments,” Young said in an e-mail. It’s an offense to make such a “damaging disclosure,” Young said.
In an interview with the South China Morning Post, Snowden said the U.S. had been hacking computers in Hong Kong and mainland China since 2009. He said the U.S. is “bullying” Hong Kong to extradite him.
Snowden’s disclosures have triggered a criminal investigation by the U.S. Justice Department, calls for the surveillance to be limited, and a lawsuit accusing the government of violating the privacy and free-speech rights of its citizens.
U.S. House Speaker John Boehner called Snowden a traitor whose disclosure put Americans at risk. “It shows our adversaries what our capabilities are,” Boehner said on ABC News’s “Good Morning America.”
The protesters backing Snowden on June 15 will call on the Hong Kong government to “respect international legal standards” and condemn the U.S. government for violating rights and privacy, according to a statement on the organizers’ website.
Speaking at a briefing today, China Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying called for more dialogue and talks on cybersecurity. In response to a question about Snowden’s accusations of U.S. hacking, Hua said: “The adoption of double standards will bring no benefit to the settlement of the relevant issue.”
The U.S. government may want to adjust its counter-terrorism policies so that intrusions on individual rights “are not as expansive,” the English-language China Daily newspaper said in an editorial today.
“Whether Snowden should be praised or condemned, the ongoing public debate sparked by his leaks is worthwhile if it can help both the American people and the U.S. government find a better balance between public safety and individuals’ right to privacy,” the editorial said.
The incident “seriously discredits” the U.S. over previous claims about human rights, privacy and due process, Lee Kai-Fu, the former head of Google Inc.’s China division, said in a phone interview. Lee, who has 43.9 million Weibo followers, wrote a microblog post on June 11 saying he admires Snowden’s “principles and values.”
“Most discussion on Weibo is ‘Wow, you are are not really different from the others,’” Lee, now chairman and chief executive officer of Innovation Works, said of the U.S. in the interview. “It’s potentially a massive confidence crisis.”
Lee was banned from Weibo for three days in February after speaking out on topics ranging from Beijing’s air pollution to a censorship battle at a Chinese newspaper in January, to presidential politics in Taiwan.
Snowden, 29, was a former technical assistant for the Central Intelligence Agency and had worked for the National Security Agency in the past four years for contractors including Booz Allen Hamilton Holding Corp., according to the Guardian and the Washington Post. Booz Allen, his most recent employer, said June 11 that Snowden has been fired.
Hong Kong will deal with any extradition request based on its own legal system, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying said in a Bloomberg Television interview in New York. He declined to comment on specific cases.
Snowden’s revelations weakened the U.S. and European governments’ “moral force” in calling for Internet freedom in China, Hong Kong-based Chinese-language newspaper Apple Daily wrote in an editorial.
U.S. officials have accused the Chinese government of being behind a series of hacker attacks designed to steal trade secrets and potentially disable computers that operate banks, power grids and telecommunications systems.
At a summit in California last week, President Barack Obama made clear to Chinese President Xi Jinping that resolving the issue is “key to U.S.-China relations,” White House national security adviser Tom Donilon said.
In its own editorial, the South China Morning Post said it was debatable whether the U.S. surveillance programs are “more defensible than China’s state-sponsored hacking activities.”
— With assistance by Simon Lee, and Edmond Lococo