Lawmakers picking over security bill

PUBLISHED : Friday, 26 May, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 26 May, 2006, 12:00am

Lawmakers yesterday continued to pick their way through the basics of the covert surveillance bill, questioning the definition of words such as 'judicial', 'postal' and even 'install'.

At one point, Liberal Party legislator Selina Chow Liang Shuk-yee expressed exasperation at the number of such questions Democrat James To Kun-sun was raising, urging the bills committee to move down the bill into the context of how words were used instead of bickering over basic definitions.

But Mr To retorted: 'Every word may be controversial. If the bill is not well drawn up, the scope can be extremely broad.'

The bill must be passed by August, before a grace period granted to the government by High Court judge Mr Justice Michael Hartmann expires. But the bills committee is still working on clause two of the 65-clause bill - the 'interpretation' clause.

Bills committee chairwoman Miriam Lau Kin-yee struggled to keep order at the meeting last night - the second gathering of the committee in one day.

But there was some progress. The government agreed to move an amendment, replacing the terms 'judicial authorisation' with 'judge's authorisation' to remove doubt about whether 'judicial' indeed means 'judge's'.

The proposed bill regulates the use of covert surveillance and bugging by law enforcement agents, but restricts the definition of such surveillance to activities involving the use of devices.

Lawmakers also questioned whether the bill, in regulating 'postal interception', would cover courier services and office messenger services as well as the official postal service. They were told courier services were not included.