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Edward Snowden’s leak of NSA documents is one of the most significant leaks in our country’s history. Snowden, a former CIA employee, began to release confidential information involving the United States government’s ability to “data snoop” on practically anybody within the country. His reasoning was that of principle, and he says that he does not believe that the government should be able to spy on anyone it pleases at any time. Although the content of the leaks is fascinating and raises many questions pertaining to digital privacy, for the purposes of this blog, I would like to focus on Snowden’s exile in Hong Kong as well as his potential extradition.
Hong Kong is an interesting choice to seek asylum. Although they are considered a part of China, they have an independent legal system which they inherited from England. Snowden says he chose Hong Kong because of its past history of freedom of speech. However, many consider Hong Kong to be a poor choice of locations for Snowden. Hong Kong and the United States have an extradition agreement, which the United States has used several times. China is able to step in and block extradition, but only in special circumstances, such as if blocking extradition is in the best interest of their country, and even then, it only seems to apply to Chinese nationals.
Interestingly, when it came to filing for asylum, China used to uphold refugee claims filed through the United Nations. However, last year, a Chinese court held that the Chinese government must go through their own screening procedures instead, though China currently has no system in place for that type of action, meaning a bona fide refugee claim under the United Nations would theoretically still prevent Snowden’s removal.
There are many possibilities of what could happen. Will the United States try to extradite Snowden? If so, would Hong Kong allow it? What role could mainland China play? Are any international agencies likely to get involved?