H.K. lawmakers petition Obama for leniency against whistleblower

Lawmakers in Hong Kong are calling on U.S. president Barack Obama on Friday to "tread carefully" with the case of Edward Snowden, the former U.S. intelligence technician who has been hiding in Hong Kong after exposing large-scale electronic spying by the U.S. government.

Snowden, who set off the biggest scandal for a U.S. intelligence operation in recent history, is being investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, according to the bureau's director Robert Mueller.

Pro-democracy legislators Claudia Mo and Gary Fan said in a letter to Obama "the revelations of blanket surveillance of global communications by the world's leading democracy have damaged the image of the U.S. among freedom-loving peoples around the world."

They said the perceived U.S. prosecution against Snowden will set "a dangerous precedent and will likely be used to justify similar actions" by authoritarian governments.

"We hope President Obama will not pursue with the possible offense of U.S. laws by Snowden," Mo told reporters, "for he may have done liberal democracy a service by stimulating serious discussion in many countries."

According to documents leaked by Snowden, the U.S. National Security Agency has hacked into civilian computers in Hong Kong, with a success rate of 75 percent, in the past four years, the South China Morning Post reported Friday.

The Hong Kong legislature, comprised of mainly pro-Beijing legislators, will during a general meeting Wednesday seek government responses on the alleged hacking of local networks by the U.S. government and hold a debate on Internet safety.

"As per the individual who has admitted making these disclosures, he is the subject of an ongoing criminal investigation," FBI Director Robert Mueller said Thursday when testifying before the U.S. House Judiciary Committee, referring to Snowden.

But it is unclear if the U.S. authorities will ask Hong Kong to help in capturing or extraditing Snowden, who has stayed under the radar since arriving here last month.

The 29-year-old chose to stay in the former British colony for its rule of law and impartial judicial system, he said in an earlier interview with The Guardian and said he will stay until he is "asked to leave."

The Global Times, China's English-language daily, said in its editorial Friday the United States owes China an explanation of the "Prism" saga.

"Snowden's exposure has upgraded our understanding of cyberspace, especially cyber attacks from the U.S., which is probably a much sharper weapon than its traditional military force," it said. "This weapon has demonstrated the U.S.'s hypocrisy and arrogance. Besides Snowden's disclosure, it is still unknown what else the U.S., a country which once condemned China for cyber attacks, has done to China."

Neither the Chinese nor Hong Kong government has commented on Snowden's case.

Foreign Affairs Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said she has "nothing to announce," but added "now there is proof" China is victim of cyber attacks.

Rights advocate groups are planning a march in Hong Kong on Saturday to support Snowden and condemn what they see as the U.S. government's privacy infringement through the spying.