Pulling a Snowden in China: Human rights lawyer demands surveillance info

Pulling a Snowden in China: Human rights lawyer demands surveillance info
Image: AP Photo/Kin Cheung
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Inspired by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden and his revelations about US spying operations, a Chinese human rights lawyer has sent a public letter (Chinese original) to China’s Ministry of Public Security asking for full disclosure of the government surveillance on its citizens.

China has a reputation for treating activists of any kind with violent suppression, but Beijing-based Xie Yanyi does not appear all that concerned for his safety, despite being attacked by police in the past. “I have this expectation that they will actually publicize it,” Xie told Foreign Policy magazine. “But if they actually do publicize this information, it’s good for everyone. They can uphold China’s image.”

His timing ain’t bad: Snowden’s disclosures gave China a huge diplomatic PR freebie on cybersecurity and domestic surveillance—issues where the US previously had the moral high ground. That said, it stretches credulity to think that China, one of the world’s most tightly controlled societies, will take kindly to Xie’s request.

This is not the first time Xie has made such a bold move and survived to tell the tale. He wrote a similar letter to China’s Ministry of Justice in 2009 requesting information about the country’s draconian “re-education through education” justice system. His request was denied.