Prior to exposing the National Security Agency’s secret surveillance program, a former CIA employee chose to flee to Hong Kong.
Unfortunately for him, Edward Snowden, 29, still might not be safe from prosecution due to an extradition treaty in force since 1998. Snowden admitted that he gave the Guardian and the Washington Post classified documents about how the NSA obtained data from U.S. telecom and Internet companies.
"Mainland China does have significant restrictions on free speech but the people of Hong Kong have a long tradition of protesting in the streets, making their views known," Snowden said in a video interview posted on the Guardian's website.
The U.S. Justice Department has said it is in the initial stages of a criminal investigation.
The treaty between the United States and Hong Kong allows for the exchange of criminal suspects in a formal process that may also involve the Chinese government. It could prove difficult for Snowden to circumvent the treaty if the U.S. government decides to prosecute him, Reuters reported.
"They're not going to put at risk their relationship with the U.S. over Mr. Snowden, and very few people have found that they have the clout to persuade another country to go out of their way for them," said New York lawyer Robert Anello.
At least one other attorney agrees with Anello.
"Probable cause won't be hard," said extradition lawyer Douglas McNabb. "This guy came out and said, 'I did it.' His best defense would probably be that this is a political case instead of a criminal one." The treaty prohibits extradition for political cases.
When asked if an extradition claim would be made for Snowden, the U.S. consulate in Hong Kong wouldn't comment.