Warning: make contain whistles

14 Jun

whistleThis week I have to write a little bit about this guy who blew someone’s whistle. I’m not sure if it was technically his whistle or the US government’s whistle but it was bloody loud enough to get everyone’s attention and now you can’t move for news of him. I’m talking of course about Edward Snowden, the former IT bod at defence contractor Booz Allen Hamilton who became China’s new favourite person after fleeing to Hong Kong to avoid capture by the US and possible charges of treason.

My observations are as follows:

IT technicians at defence contractors get paid too much. The Mira is a friggin’ swish hotel in Tsim Sha Tsui where Snowden was holed up, the inside of which I only ever get to see for IDC analyst conferences on virtualisation. Before that he was rumoured to be staying in the W. Seriously, this former information security engineer should be used as a poster boy to get more kids into IT: excitement, intrigue, a $200,000 a year salary, Hawaii home, a hot girlfriend who’s a professional pole dancer. And he still wasn’t happy? Some people. Let’s see how he likes the inside of Guantanamo.

Second; I can’t work out whether he’s incredibly naïve or very smart. Out of pure schadenfreude I’d quite like to see Snowden bundled into the back of a black van and never heard from again due to his decision to flee to Hong Kong because the people here “have a spirited commitment to free speech and the right of political dissent”. Part of that is true – people love complaining, usually with whistles, about the government and their rapidly eroding rights – but how often do they get their way? Only when it suits Beijing. Case in point, three pro-democracy activists have just been convicted of burning the HK flag in a protest. Seriously, in 2013 people are still getting done for that…

It doesn’t stop there. A Hong Kong Uni poll last month revealed the majority of people here (48 per cent) think the press in HK actively self censors, while Reporters Without Borders ranks it 58th on its World Press Freedom Index, four places down from 2012. Freedom House doesn’t rate Hong Kong too highly either – ranking it 71st in the world in terms of protection of civil liberties and listing it as only “partly free”.

This place exists in a “one country two systems” regime which protects civil liberties, press and internet freedoms and preserves the rule of law, unlike mainland China. But it’s never really been tested yet. The regime only continues to exist in this form because it allows HK to flourish as one of the world’s great financial capitals. In reality, the former British colony is ruled by property moguls and bankers and the politicians they elect and become; and who as a property mogul or financier wouldn’t want to appease Beijing with its huge coffers and vast potential market?

Having said this, I think on balance Snowden’s smarter than this.

He is appealing to HK-ers’ natural proclivity to fight for free speech, which they will do – again with whistles – at a rally on Saturday afternoon. It doesn’t matter that the free speech on this occasion is being threatened by the US rather than Chinese government. In fact, this unusual twist will also appeal to Beijing. Whether it’s part of the plan or not, he’s been making himself an attractive asset for the Party to keep hold of by disclosing some hugely embarrassing secrets about US state surveillance of its own citizens, as well as revelations of NSA hacking attacks on China and other countries. It’s all given the Communist Party huge leverage in the on-going cyber blame war with the US and will surely mean Beijing will not want to step in and over-rule Hong Kong’s decision on extradition – which could itself take forever.

save snowden

I should really be happy that the warrantless surveillance of citizens by US security agencies is being uncovered by an IT droid, but there are a few things that made me take an instant dislike to this guy.

First: “Edward”. The only people I know who actually use the full length version of this name are politicians, former kings of England and people trying to give themselves more gravitas than they innately possess. Unless it’s The Guardian that is trying to give Ed more gravitas than he innately possesses, in which case ignore me…

Second: The Guardian interview. Have you noticed how Snowden is at pains to say “I don’t want public attention because I don’t want the story to be about me”, and that “my sole motive is to inform the public as to that which is done in their name and that which is done against them”. Err, why didn’t you just try and stay anonymous then? Not easy, granted, but there is a touch of the Assange about his carefully rehearsed, media-friendly declamations.

Third: failure to grasp basic employment law. “I have no intention of hiding who I am because I know I have done nothing wrong,” he told The Grauniad. Again, I think you’ll find that disclosing top secret state-run surveillance programs is against the rules according to your former employer and possibly treasonous.

Fourth: I hate IT nerds in glasses and I can’t abide whistles.

That last one was a joke.

As for the future. Well, Hong Kong’s media unfriendly CEO CY Leung was giving nothing away in this cringe-worthy interview by what looked like a Bloomberg TV intern.

Despite the above rant, though, Death Noodle hopes Edward Snowden is able to stay exiled in Hong Kong for as long as possible. With any luck, until after 2047 when the “one country, two systems” rule runs out and he’ll finally be able to experience what it’s like to live in a proper tyrannical state. Although by then, no doubt, we’ll all be speaking bad Mandarin and defecating in lifts.

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One Response to “Warning: make contain whistles”

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Bye bye Snowden, hello more terrible HK news | Death Noodle - June 25, 2013

    […] that’s it. Panic over. Move along please. Nothing to see here. Prism snitch Edward Snowden has finally left the building. Currently en route to that bastion of free speech Ecuador, or […]

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