When I first heard that Edward Snowden was in Hong Kong, I was skeptical. The young cybersecurity guru who uncovered the NSA's extensive surveillance surely would have headed for Iceland or some other haven (Sweden's off the map, as Julian Assange has learned).
Knowing Snowden's background, I thought he might have said he was in Hong Kong as a ruse--either having been here and gone, or never having been here in the first place. I was wrong. Snowden placed his trust in our judicial system, and Hong Kong should be proud.
"We need whistleblowers"
In an editorial, Bruce Schneier wrote eloquently about the phenomenon and concluded that "we need whistleblowers."
Schneier's right. Transparency in government is a good thing--provided it doesn't compromise essential security. And there's nothing essential about the NSA tapping into massive streams of metadata from unsuspecting and unsuspected citizens. There's even an amendment to the US Constitution (the Fourth Amendment, part of a series of amendment known as the Bill of Rights) forbidding "unreasonable search and seizure." Can it be that the NSA simply overlooked this?
There are other opinions on Snowden. One former official from the administration of George "Dubya" Bush excoriated the whistleblower, saying "the Chinese would welcome the opportunity and probably willing to provide immunity for him or sanctuary for him, if you will, in exchange for what he presumably knows or doesn't know." This difficult-to-follow sentence is especially absurd given that Snowden is now in Russia.
This is nonsense, but it plays well with many US voters, some of whom couldn't find China (let alone Hong Kong) on a map. Clearly, the revelation that US agencies conducted large-scale surveillance operations while the US president chided China's leaders about "cyberspying" is an embarrassment to Washington.
"We need whistleblower protection law in HK," said Charles Mok, Hong Kong's Legislative Councillor (Information Technology). "Time and time again we let them down--while they act in the public interest, the lack of protection for them effectively gags them."
"Snowden's case is a wake-up call," said Mok. "One does not need to agree with what and how he is doing, but a fair and open society must provide the protection a whistleblower needs, in order for society to continue to be transparent."
We DO need whistleblowers
Schneier and Mok are right. The USA needs whistleblowers to expose misfeasance or malfeasance on the part of US government agencies, and Hong Kong needs to provide protection for such watchdogs provided, of course, they abide by the laws of the HKSAR.
While some urged Snowden to leave Hong Kong, and he has now done so, the fact that he came here in the first place and was able to exit safely sits well with many in tech and government. A fascinating op-ed piece by Simon Tisdall, assistant editor and foreign affairs columnist for UK newspaper the Guardian explicates: "Like too many American politicians, Kerry seems to believe 'the law' is what the White House counsel and U.S. Justice Department deem it to be on any given day, and that this made-in-America 'law' applies inexorably to every country and every corner of the world," wrote Tisdall. "Wrong, John. It's like invading somebody else's country without a U.N. Security Council resolution, or entering a home without a warrant. Not advisable, unless you relish hand-to-hand combat and endless sarcasm."
"Obama and Kerry can talk about security until they lose signal. Right now, the rest of the world is talking sovereignty, privacy and individual rights."