Edward Snowden has fans among the Chinese, who know a thing or two about internet surveillance.
In leaking information about a top-secret US government data collection program, Snowden argued that an increasingly authoritarian government could use such intelligence against citizens—exactly the situation Chinese nationals face.
Chinese internet users today hailed Snowden, the ex-CIA employee who leaked information on the National Security Agency’s PRISM operation last week. “This is the definition of heroism,” one blogger wrote. “Doing this proves he genuinely cares about this country and about his country’s citizens. All countries need someone like him!”
Chinese citizens are among the most monitored in the world. Companies and individuals must get any internet access through the Chinese government or state-owned companies. That helps the state to run one of the largest digital surveillance and censorship regimes in the world, nicknamed the Great Firewall. As of early March, 30 journalists and 69 bloggers had been jailed, more than anywhere else in the world, according to nonprofit Reporters Without Borders. Private internet companies also help track and censor citizens or else face government sanctions.
Some in China see Snowden as an example for Chinese people to stand up for internet freedom. Wen Yunchao, a Chinese blogger in Hong Kong wrote on Twitter, “I hope that an Edward Snowden comes out of China’s Great Firewall system, exposes it, and goes down in the annals of history as a hero.”
Others see Snowden’s exile in Hong Kong as a rare opportunity for the Chinese government to stand up for digital civil liberties. (Hong Kong has an extradition treaty with the US that Beijing can override.) One blogger wrote, “He must be protected…This is one of the few opportunities the Communist Party has to contribute to world good.”