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As World Awaits U.S. Reaction to NSA Leaks, Movement Emerges to Support Edward Snowden in Hong Kong

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As Edward Snowden is believed to remain in Hong Kong while facing an ongoing U.S. investigation, hundreds of protesters there braved heavy rain Saturday in a show of support. We’re joined by Charles Mok, a legislative councilor representing the Information Technology Functional Constituency of Hong Kong, and Tom Grundy, an activist and blogger who organized Saturday’s rally in defense of Edward Snowden. “We want to make sure that we can protect and live up to our core values to treat [Snowden] according to all the rights that he should be getting under Hong Kong law,” Mok says. Grundy says he helped organize Saturday’s rally for Snowden mindful of another U.S. whistleblower: “We don’t want Snowden to end up like Bradley Manning.”

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Revelations continue to emerge from the NSA files exposed by whistleblower Edward Snowden. The Guardian of London reports that in 2009 the British government conducted extensive surveillance on foreign diplomats who attended the G20 summit in London. Britain’s NSA counterpart, the GCHQ, even established fake Internet cafés to spy on the foreign delegates’ computer use. The agency also hacked into officials’ Blackberrys to monitor their emails and phone calls. The NSA played a role in the operation by sharing information on the phone calls of Russian leader Medvedev. Other targets included British government allies, such as South Africa and Turkey. The goal of the spying appears to have been to give the British government an advantage in the negotiations.

Meanwhile, over the weekend, U.S. intelligence agencies officially confirmed the surveillance programs exposed by Edward Snowden. In a letter to Congress released on Saturday, U.S. officials said the blanket collection of phone records and the spying on foreigners’ Internet usage are covered under Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act and Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act. The National Security Agency also said it investigated less than 300 phone records seized in the broad collection of metadata last year. The NSA also claims the monitoring has foiled terror plots in the U.S. and 20 other countries, but has not provided any details.

Well, as Edward Snowden is believed to remain in Hong Kong as he faces an ongoing U.S. investigation, hundreds of protesters braved heavy rain on Saturday in a show of support. Hong Kong legislator Claudia Mo spoke at the rally.

CLAUDIA MO: Mr. Snowden actually said the courts in Hong Kong and the local people will decide his fate. And we, as Hong Kong people, owe him at least some response. What he was doing was trying to tell the world that we do have this Big Brother of United States of America, and it’s supposed to be the champion of democracy worldwide. It’s supposedly, but it’s been conducting blanket surveillance in the cyberspace on a global scale. Thanks to the—Washington, Hong Kong is part of that surveillance program, except that we only got hundreds, apparently, out of tens of thousands of hackings and so on. Now, ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Snowden is trying to tell us that Big Brother government must draw a line. It’s a wall of security versus freedom. It’s a wall of security versus privacy.

AMY GOODMAN: For more, we go to Hong Kong, where we’re joined by Charles Mok, another legislative counselor who participated in the rally. He represents the Information Technology Functional Constituency of Hong Kong, also the honorary president of the Hong Kong Information Technology Federation and former chair of the Hong Kong Internet Service Providers Association, as well as co-founder of the Internet Society Hong Kong. Also in Hong Kong, we’re joined by Tom Grundy, an activist and blogger who organized Saturday’s rally.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Let’s go first to Tom. Why the rally?

TOM GRUNDY: Well, Snowden, as you heard from Claudia Mo, specifically came to Hong Kong because he believed there is a tradition of freedom of speech and political dissent, which is largely true here. We had over 900 people, according to an independent head count, six speakers, including three serving politicians, and 27 groups, which is unprecedented for Hong Kong, especially in the rain. We proceeded to the U.S. consulate, where we all blew whistles. We handed in a letter to the ambassador demanding that the U.S. end surveillance on innocent citizens. And we said, of course, that the U.S. citizens may be protected by the Fourth Amendment, but the 12th Article of the U.N. Human Rights Declaration, you know, protects the rest of us. We then went to the Hong Kong government headquarters, where we handed in a letter demanding that the government here protects Snowden, upholds the rule of law and rejects any mainland influence on the issue.

AMY GOODMAN: Charles Mok, can you explain why you are supporting Edward Snowden, what it means to be the information technology representative on—in the Hong Kong council, why what he has done is significant to you?

CHARLES MOK: OK. Well, first of all, in the Legislature of Hong Kong, which is the lawmaking body in Hong Kong, we do have a system that, other than the geographically returned people, legislators, there are also a number of us that are returned by individual professions or industry bodies. So I represent the IT, Information Technology, Functional Constituency.

Now, I think the facts that Ed Snowden, that he chose Hong Kong, according to what he’s told The Guardian and the South China Morning Post, was that Hong Kong do have a tradition for freedom of speech, freedom of expression and tolerance of dissent, and also rule of law. So, it is this kind of spotlight that we have right now because of this affair that he’s in Hong Kong, and he’s been talking to journalists and so on, and is still hiding, that we think and a lot of people in Hong Kong actually believe that he’s got to get his due process. He’s got to get his due process or the rights that he is accorded, according to Hong Kong laws. I think the Morning Post just did a survey over the weekend of a number of people in Hong Kong, and actually more than half do believe that he should be protected by our Hong Kong law as much as possible, according to our system and all the due process that he should be getting.

AMY GOODMAN: Ed Snowden did an interview with the South China Morning Post, and in it he said one target of the NSA hacking was the Chinese University of Hong Kong, which, according to The New York Times, hosts the city’s main hub for Internet connections to the rest of the world. Can you talk about the significance of this?

CHARLES MOK: Yes. Actually, the Chinese University hosts what is called the Hong Kong Internet Exchange, which actually is not exactly the hub to the rest of the world, but the hub within Hong Kong. So all of the intra-Hong-Kong traffic between different Internet service providers will pass through this HKIX Internet exchange in the Chinese University. So, in a way, you would guess that if somebody want to snoop and want to listen in as much traffic as possible, then you would choose the biggest intersection point, and that would be the HKIX. So, I think that is what conventional wisdoms here has been sort of guessing why that particular place, that university, in particular, has been picked up as the target. But, of course, I think in Snowden’s interview he also reveals that all over the world there were at least over 60,000 of these sort of intrusions, and there were about 300 or so in Hong Kong. So, that actually means that Hong Kong is not the only target. But by being in Hong Kong and talking to a Hong Kong newspaper, I guess he must have particularly chose to highlight the situation in Hong Kong, the attacks that has been targeting here.

AMY GOODMAN: The New York Times goes on to point out that the Global Times, a nationalistic mainland Chinese newspaper under direct control of the Communist Party, published an editorial Friday calling for China to glean as much information as possible from Snowden, saying Snowden is a card that China never expected, but China is neither adept at nor used to playing it, and goes on to say the commentary also called for China and Hong Kong to treat Snowden kindly enough so that others with national security secrets will not be discouraged from fleeing to Hong Kong. They said China should make sure Hong Kong is not the last place where other Snowdens want to go. Charles Mok, talk about what the Global Times is saying.

CHARLES MOK: Well, I think they made it pretty blatant, what is in China’s mind about Ed Snowden being in Hong Kong, is that they want to play the card. They might want to get as much information out of this person as possible. Please understand that at least we have a one-country, two-system system in Hong Kong and between Hong Kong and the mainland. So our laws is different—are different from the laws in China. And we do have a border and so on. We do have different governments, even though as a regional government, we do report to the central government.

So, I think what we want locally is to make sure that we can protect and make sure that we can live up to our core values and make sure that we treat this person according to all the rights that he should be getting under Hong Kong law. And we—actually, this is exactly what I don’t want to see, is that this sort of political influence to be interfering into the political—into the justice process, the judicial process that Mr. Snowden may end up having to get in Hong Kong. If, for example, the U.S. starts by contacting the Hong Kong government to try to initiate an extradition, and if Mr. Snowden decides to get—try to get asylum or apply for refugee status here in Hong Kong, he—if he chose to do that, if the process comes to that point, he should be getting all the rights.

AMY GOODMAN: And what would political asylum mean? I mean, if he were arrested, he would be arrested by Hong Kong police. But this is a complicated story, because he could be charged more for revealing information to Hong Kong and China. But then the question would be, would China be willing to then hand him over?

CHARLES MOK: OK, the process, roughly, as I understand, works like this. If the U.S. started to initiate a process and say that we want to arrest this person and start an extradition process, then Mr. Snowden could apply to—in Hong Kong for refugee status. And then there would be at least two tests, first by the United Nations High Commission on Refugees to determine whether or not, for example, that he will face torture at home and whether or not this is political persecution and so on, and second, also by the Hong Kong court. So, the Hong Kong court, and he will be—he will be accorded rights to appeal all the way up to our highest court in Hong Kong. So, assuming that money and financial issues, because you do need to get lawyers and so on for that—assuming those are not an issue, these processes in the past could have taken quite a bit of time. But, of course, the problem—the issue is, at the end, if there is a decision that finally has to be made, if he doesn’t get—if he isn’t successful and there has to be a final decision to be made about the extradition, our chief executive in Hong Kong, which is pretty much the—our president, just like—he will have to make the final decision. But because this case very likely will involve foreign relation, then he has to consult the central government. So, in the end, it means that the process can be a pretty prolonged process, and, second, Beijing will probably come into the equation to make a final decision at—in the end.

AMY GOODMAN: Tom Grundy, do you think that Edward Snowden was correct in saying that he saw Hong Kong as a place of freedom of the press and freedom of expression?

TOM GRUNDY: Well, a lot of the pro-democracy groups which turned out on Saturday have been concerned that there’s been a slow erosion of civil liberties in Hong Kong. Particularly in the last year or so, you’ve seen a lot of suspicion of the mainland and some large protests, including last year against a government program of national education, which many saw as brainwashing. So, a lot of these things seemed to feed into the turnout on Saturday. But he said he’s entrusting the Hong Kong people and the courts here. So, you know, I hope we don’t let him down.

In 2004, Hong Kong extradited a Libyan dissident. According to Law Yuk Kai, who’s the Human Rights Monitor director here, he went on to be tortured. And he received millions of pounds in compensation from the U.K. government. It was also at the request of the U.S. that he was deported. And he’s now suing the Hong Kong government. So, one of the reasons we gathered on Saturday is that we don’t want Snowden to, you know, end up like Bradley Manning, and we want the rule of law locally to be upheld.

AMY GOODMAN: Charles Mok, the issue of cyberwarfare, what are China’s concerns with cyberwarfare? And what did you—as an Internet specialist, as an expert, what did you find most significant in the information that was released by Edward Snowden?

CHARLES MOK: Well, I guess cyberwarfare is already part of—part of not just espionage, but just even what all these countries are doing. And you see all these examples recently, like North Korea getting into South Korea’s system and so on. So, it’s a part of—a very big part of foreign relations and even future warfare. You’ve seen that, actually, with the discussion only a couple weeks ago between President Obama and China President Xi in California, what was the first issue that they discussed was actually cyberspying. But at the time, originally, the U.S. was trying to press China to say that, “Hey, don’t do that against us. There’s been a lot of cases of Chinese-originated attacks on U.S. companies and U.S. official targets and so on. So stop doing that.” And now, with this disclosure, China all of a sudden feels that it has been vindicated, because it’s been saying all along that, “Hey, we are the victims.” So, I think what is most unfortunate about this matter is that governments are—you know, it’s like they cannot stop themselves putting their hands into the cookie jars, which is to look into all of our lives. And it’s the same for all these governments, just like what was just disclosed by The Guardian today about the U.K. government.

So, there are just lots and lots more that we people of the world don’t know. And so, I think the unfortunate thing is that people of the world actually are the losers, because right now what I fear the most is that authoritative governments, including China itself, may come out and say that, “Hey, you know, even the U.S. is doing this, so don’t tell us what to do, because we’ll just be doing the same as what you are doing.” And, of course, there is a difference here, because in the U.S. we’re mainly talking about these sort of surveillance that the U.S.—that the Americans originally thought are not targeting themselves, the Americans, but now they found that it’s actually even targeting domestic targets. But, wow, we’re talking about China, which is the place in the world with the heaviest Internet censorship. You know, all these efforts—most of their efforts are actually targeting their own citizens, so that there is this sort of difference, as well.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s interesting that this all happened as the Chinese and U.S. leaders were meeting in California, Xi and Obama, Charles Mok.

CHARLES MOK: Yes, yes. This is exactly such a coincidence, which is why I have to say that—I have to say that it’s understandable, even though I don’t think we have any proof that certain American politicians might be coming out to suspect Snowden of having been influenced by China or being used by China. I hope that’s not true. That’s why, even when I was in the rally outside the U.S. consulate, I did say that I hope that Mr. Snowden would not go into the mainland of China, because if he trusts in Hong Kong with our “one country, two system,” I will—we will try to do whatever we can to try to protect him and give him the rights under our laws. But if he ends up in China, which is the place with the heaviest Internet censorship in the world, it just goes against everything that he says. So I hope that’s not going to happen.

AMY GOODMAN: What power do you have as a legislator in the Hong Kong council, finally, Charles Mok?

CHARLES MOK: Well, we don’t have a lot of power. Particularly, as I said, the whole process, in the end, if both sides feels that it has to—both sides meaning Hong Kong and China—feels that—our governments feel that this does—if it does involve foreign policy matters, then, by law, we have to consult the central government of Beijing. So, by that time, I would—when it reaches that point, then there will be—there will definitely be a lot of political consideration. But first of all, even before we reach that point, I believe Mr. Snowden should be given his due process in our court, first of all. And second, in the end, by the time when this is really treated as a foreign policy matter and we have to consult Beijing, I’m sure that, possibly, like it or not, diplomacy between the U.S. and China will kick in to make a final decision.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank—I want to thank you both for being with us. Charles Mok, a city councilmember, a member of Hong Kong’s Legislative Council, former president of Hong Kong Information Technology Federation, and also honorary president of the Hong Kong Information Technology Federation. Also, Tom Grundy, thanks so much for being with us, a Hong Kong-based activist and blogger who organized Saturday’s rally in defense of Edward Snowden.

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