Seizing information is an abuse of power

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 18 April, 1995, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 18 April, 1995, 12:00am

THERE are many similarities between the ongoing issues of the Inland Revenue Department's 'collection' of patient files during tax investigations and the Commercial Crime Bureau's impounding of private e-mail files as part of their Internet Licence raid.

That both departments had the right to take the action they did 'under the law' cannot be argued against. But this is the reasoning used by many governments when they justify what most would call 'abuse of power'.

That they may need to see private or personal files to be able to ascertain whether or not an offence has been committed is understandable. But is confiscation really warranted? That we have to 'trust' the civil servants involved not to disclose the private information is undeniable.

I do not have a problem with this as I have as much faith in government employees as I do in the doctor's receptionist or the Internet provider's accounts clerk both of whom also have 'access' to my 'private' information.

That neither body considered the affect of taking away the files is unfortunately all too apparent, and is without doubt the most worrying of all.

Hopefully the reaction from the media and Joe Public which resulted in the sanctioned agreement in the IRD case and in a Legco panel discussing the Internet action will prevent such blatant stupidity happening again.

I doubt it though, as I see no signs of senior law makers suggesting the law needs to be changed so that 'evidence' shall be collected in a way that does not threaten the health, livelihood, confidence or general well-being of any person not directly involved in the proceedings.

And I have no faith that those who order or carry out individual actions will be able to see far enough past the relevant ordinance to use the discretion that they surely have. But then again maybe we should not criticise those people who are only doing what the law makers have told them they should do.

Perhaps we should turn for guidance (and a great quotation) to a man who had more than his share of lawful persecution - Jesus Christ - who when dying on the cross said . . .

'Forgive them for they know not what they do'.