Pressure builds on US over Hong Kong civilian hacking allegations
Politicians on all sides say the US needs to answer allegations it hacked targets including territory’s businesses and universities
by Tania Branigan & Jonathan Kaiman (Hong Kong)
June 13, 2013
Pro-Beijing politicians on Thursday urged the US to clarify whether it had carried out such surveillance, as NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden alleged, and if so, immediately cease. Among the pan-democrats, Democratic party chairwoman Emily Lau suggested lawmakers should ask the US “what the hell they’re up to” and a colleague said he would like Snowden to give evidence to the legislative council.
Snowden said that the US had hacked Hong Kong targets including public officials, businesses, a university and students, as well as entities on the mainland. His claims were made in an interview with the city’s South China Morning Post, which said it had seen a document that Snowden said supported his claims. The Post added that it had not verified the material, and has not published it.
The allegations followed a string of revelations in the Guardian based on top-secret documents provided by the 29-year-old, who had worked as a computer technical assistant for Booz Allen Hamilton, on contract to the National Security Agency.
Thursday’s statement from the Democratic Alliance for Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong (DAB) – the largest pro-Beijing party in the Legislative Council – said his claims had aroused strong concern and anxieties in the territory.
It urged “that the US government immediately clarify whether it has, in accordance with its intelligence and surveillance program plans, gathered intelligence or conducted surveillance of local individuals, groups and organisations via their computers or any other communication equipment; and whether in doing so, any material has been seized.
“If the US government ever invaded or monitored any local computers or communications equipment, that it should immediately cease relevant behavior, and furthermore destroy any material that it has acquired by this means.”
It also called on the Hong Kong government to tackle the incident as soon as possible, determining whether there had been any legal violations so that Hong Kong’s privacy and freedom of communication could be protected.
James To Kun-sun, a Democrat and vice-chair of the legislature’s security panel, said that while it was perfectly legitimate for the US to carry out counter-terrorism work, the alleged hacks were unacceptable.
“I can’t imagine that the US government should hack into, say, a Hong Kong government official’s computer for anti-terrorism [purposes]. And of course I can’t imagine that our Chinese University of Hong Kong has any form of association with terrorists,” he said.
He said he wanted to understand how vulnerable the city’s systems were and to ask Snowden in more detail about his claims, but added that he would take soundings from colleagues.
Emily Lau, the chairwoman of his party, added: “Our concern is what the US government is doing to harm Hong Kong’s interests. One thing to do is to invite Snowden to come and tell us. But the most direct way would probably be to contact the US government and ask them what the hell they’re up to.”
Pan-democrat Charles Mok suggested Snowden would be unlikely to come forward given his current situation, noting that lawmakers had no powers to summon individuals.
Cyd Ho of the Labour party said that politicians should request Snowden’s own wishes, arguing the priority was making sure he received fair treatment before the law.
Snowden checked out of his hotel in Hong Kong after revealing his identity in a video posted by the Guardian on Sunday, moving to a more secure location. But he told the Post he would stay in Hong Kong and fight any US request for his surrender.
On Wednesday, Jen Psaki, a spokeswoman for the State Department in Washington, said it was not aware of the hacking claims and could not comment directly.
Snowden said his claims revealed “the hypocrisy of the US government when it claims that it does not target civilian infrastructure, unlike its adversaries”.
But Psaki added: “There is a difference between going after economic data and the issues of surveillance that the president has addressed, which are about trying to stop people doing us harm.”