US attempts to extradite Edward Snowden under theft and espionage charges could take "months, if not years"

Snowden has been in Hong Kong since late May

Attempts to extradite NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden from Hong Kong under charges of theft and espionage could be blocked by China and take years, according to legal experts.

The former intelligence analyst has been charged by the US with theft of government property, unauthorised communication of national defence information and wilful communication of classified communications intelligence to an unauthorised person, with the latter two charges in relation to the US Espionage Act.

In the UK documents revealed by Snowden to the Guardian claim the GCHQ has been tapping fibre-optic cables to gather data on UK residents for the last 18 months.

According to reports in the Guardian, legislators in Hong Kong have asked for mainland China to step in.

Since 1998 the US and Hong Kong have had an extradition treaty and while espionage and theft of state secrets are not mentioned specifically in the treaty legal experts have said that equivalent charges could be pressed against Snowden under Hong Kong's official secrets ordinance.

Reports on BBC News this afternoon state that Snowden is legally residing in Hong Kong with a visitors visa that is not due to expire for two months and says local press is claiming that Snowden has asked Hong Kong police for protection and is in a safe house. Reports which local police have refused to comment on.

The BBC also claims Snowden is looking to appeal to the Hong Kong people and courts to enable him to stay and could request asylum or exception to extradition and could remain in Hong Kong for "months, if not years".

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