True Grit

One of the heroes of my childhood was the American actor John Wayne, perhaps best known for his Oscar-winning performance in the western film True Grit.

This fascination with him continued into my college years when I was elected Deputy Sheriff of the John Wayne Appreciation Society while at Bristol Polytechnic.

And on my personal website there is a photo of me saluting the Duke's statue at Orange County airport just a few years ago while on a duty trip to California.

Like all heroes, Big John was not perfect. But (at least in his film roles) he could tell the difference between good and evil, was not afraid to stand up for what was right, or to protect the weak, and most importantly could shoot straight.

All of which is by way of introduction to the subject of America's global spying programme and the extraordinary revelations of Edward Snowden.

Several things jump right off the page.

First up, the Patriot Act passed by the US Congress in the immediate aftermath of 911 while perhaps understandable at the time has turned out to be a disgraceful piece of legislation and subject of wide abuse. It urgently needs to be revisited to restore a sensible balance between the reasonable operational needs of the security services and the civic rights of American citizens.

Secondly, the critics of the draft Article 23 legislation in Hong Kong – which included the very same Americans who supported their own, much more draconian, legislation – were correct that robust safeguards must be included because there will always be a tendency for the police and other agencies to push the envelope. We need this legislation because it is our constitutional obligation, but we need to make sure we get it right.

Thirdly, Congressional oversight has been a failure partly because many members did not familiarise themselves thoroughly with what was being done in their name and partly because officials lied under oath when giving evidence to them.

Fourthly, judicial oversight turned out to be a joke because it was done behind closed doors and accepted an extraordinarily high percentage of applications (just 11 rejections in almost 34,000 cases). So the same people who claimed Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, who missed all the clues in the lead up to 911, and who failed to follow up properly even when tipped off by the Russians about one of the soon-to-be Boston bombers suddenly score 99.97% when no outsider is looking?

Fifthly, no-one in America gives a damn about the civic rights of Hong Kong people, except perhaps as a stick with which to beat Beijing. Hundreds of us have been hacked in contravention of Hong Kong law, but the man who told us about it is called traitor by congressmen some of whom demanded his immediate extradition even without charges having been laid.

Whatever happened to rule of law and due process? Are these concepts no longer part of American values?

I do not think we need to dwell very long on the do's and don't's as we go forward.

For a start, if officials in the Department of Justice have – as has been reported in the American media – been working together with their US counterparts to identify charges which could be brought against Snowden which would facilitate his extradition, then they should be instructed immediately to desist. There is enough dirty work going on without our lawyers jumping in the sewer.

Next, we should file questions with the American Consulate seeking clarification on the reported electronic intrusion. Hong Kong people have inalienable rights too!

In addition, instead of sounding bureaucratic we should issue a robust statement that Snowden, like all residents and lawful visitors to Hong Kong is entitled to and will enjoy the full protection of our laws. Contrary to the statement by the former Secretary for Security and author of the failed Article 23 legislation Regina Ip, Snowden should be able to find safe harbour here unless there are compelling grounds to the contrary.

How ironic that it should fall to the last substantial colony to throw off the British yoke to remind the first about the importance of freedom.

And while we are at it, maybe a discreet message to Beijing telling them to stay out of the way and let us handle it.

As for big John himself, I think he would have found a way of shooting Dick Cheney and providing Snowden with protection. We should aim to achieve at least the second of these.

Our Chief Executive Leung Chun Ying also attended Bristol Polytechnic though I have no information as to whether he joined the John Wayne Appreciation Society. But he is certainly capable of showing some true grit.