First Lady Peng Liyuan should consider trashing her mobile phone, Chinese bloggers are suggesting, in response to
revelations that U.S. intelligence organs "hack everyone everywhere."
Peng, wife of recently elected party general secretary and Chinese head of state Xi Jinping, was spotted taking photographs with her iPhone during a recent state visit to Mexico.
Private photographs and any other information on the device had probably ended up in the hands of the U.S. National Security Agency via Apple's servers, they suggested.
The U.S. has for years accused Chinese hackers and IT specialists in the People's Liberation Army of breaking into U.S. computer systems and downloading confidential information, including blueprints of U.S. weapons systems.
In return, the Chinese government has insisted that it is the victim of hacking attacks.
"We have mountains of data, if we wanted to accuse the U.S., but it's not helpful in solving the problem," Huang Chengqing, chief of the Chinese internet administration authority, said last week.
The revelations by Edward Snowden back up Chinese allegations of deep U.S. involvement in computer espionage.
"We hack everyone everywhere," he told Britain's Guardian newspaper. His exact whereabouts are unknown in China's special administrative region of Hong Kong.
Snowden's revelations indicate that the NSA gathers huge quantities of data directly from the servers of major Internet companies using its secret PRISM program.
The US publication Foreign Policy on Tuesday revealed the existence of a "highly secretive" NSA unit called the Office of Tailored Access Operations that was spying on the Chinese, among other targets.
The operation "successfully penetrated Chinese computer and telecommunications systems for almost 15 years, generating some of the best and most reliable intelligence information about what is going on inside the People's Republic of China," the magazine said.
Official hackers were not only cracking passwords and stealing data from hard drives and e-mails, but were also in a position to paralyse foreign computer systems and telecommunications networks, should they get the order from President Barack Obama, it said.
More than 1,000 civilian and military hackers, specialists, engineers and technicians were working for the unit that had become one of the NSA's most important components, the article said.
After all the allegations of cyber espionage directed at it in recent years, China can now watch as US leaders scramble to justify their activities to their allies, who see the revelations as casting a shadow over US democracy.
The U.S. will have to apply to Hong Kong if it wants to have Snowden extradited. China has a potential veto over such requests.
The irony was not lost on the Chinese bloggers who noted with glee that Chinese citizens had frequently in the past sought asylum in the U.S., while now a US citizen had found sanctuary in Chinese territory.
Snowden has become an overnight hero among internet users in China, who are well aware that their own activities are under constant scrutiny by the Chinese authorities.
"What he did has shown that he really cares about his country and his fellow citizens. Every country needs someone like him," one blogger wrote.
In Hong Kong, Snowden's presence has prompted some residents to support his campaign against government intrusion, and to test the city's reputation as a bastion of free speech.
Two-thirds of respondents to a South China Morning Post poll said they would take to the streets to demand the city government treat Snowden fairly and humanely.
Popular Chinese-language website In-media said it would organise protests outside the U.S. consulate and government offices.
"If the US makes an extradition request, the Hong Kong government should not yield to pressure. It should confirm Snowden as a political asylum seeker and give him protection," the Post quoted Damon Wong Chun-pong from In-media as saying.
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