Bombshell revelations about the US’ wide-reaching surveillance programs could spur China and other countries to expand their own efforts, Chinese dissident Ai Weiwei (艾未未) said yesterday.
The US’ huge dragnet of Web and phone data, exposed in recent days through leaks and reports, has triggered a heated debate about privacy and national security.
Chinese social media users have made comparisons with their own government, which conducts extensive domestic surveillance and faces mounting accusations of aggressive cyberspying abroad.
The outspoken artist said the US’ behavior was especially worrying because it played a leading role in setting global Internet norms.
“The US has the edge in technology. It’s a leader. Many of the rules about information, the ethics, the laws, will be set by these leading countries,” Ai told reporters. “Other countries will at least refer to them or even match them.”
While Washington faced more limits, the US and China were both violating citizens’ privacy in the name of national security, he said.
“They face different types of restrictions, whether cultural or systematic ... but when it comes to invading citizens’ privacy there is no difference,” Ai said.
He added that the extent of the countries’ surveillance was hard to compare since much is unknown.
The leaks and reports have revealed that US government bodies are tapping the servers of nine Internet giants, including Apple, Facebook and Google, and collecting a vast sweep of phone records.
Edward Snowden, the IT contractor behind the Internet surveillance leaks, gave an interview in Hong Kong after the story broke.
Chinese media on Tuesday quoted a Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs official in the territory as saying Beijing had not received any requests from the US regarding Snowden.
Beijing has legal authority to handle defense and foreign affairs in Hong Kong.
Users of Chinese microblogging site Sina Weibo gave mixed views.
“Terrorism is pushing the US to quietly centralize more and more power,” one said.
Yet another gave the US credit for acknowledging its activities, saying: “Some countries that monitor the phones of their people are not brave enough to admit it.”