Chief executive could spy on opponents, legislators claim

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 06 June, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 06 June, 2006, 12:00am

The covert surveillance bill leaves the way open for the chief executive to spy on political opponents, lawmakers have warned.

Legislators have demanded that the chief executive's ability to spy on individuals be expressly curtailed in the Interception of Communications and Surveillance Bill.

The bill prohibits the use of phone tapping and covert surveillance devices by public officers unless they have authorisation from a judge or a senior officer, depending on the extent of the surveillance.

But this prohibition does not apply to the chief executive as he is not considered a 'public officer', according to the government's interpretation of the definition of 'public officer' under the law.

The controversy is similar to the one in 2001, when lawmakers found that then chief executive Tung Chee-hwa was not bound by the Prevention of Bribery Ordinance, because he was not considered to be a public servant.

'Nobody should be above the law,' The Frontier legislator Emily Lau Wai-hing said. 'In this bill, the chief executive is above the law. If the chief executive's power is not regulated by this bill, I shall take to the streets in protest.'

Democrat lawmaker James To Kun-sun asked whether the chief executive could 'contract out interception to other agencies; special agents of the central people's government'.

Civic Party lawmaker Ronny Tong Ka-wah said it was ridiculous that even if the chief executive acted unconstitutionally there would be no consequences.

Permanent Secretary for Security Stanley Ying Yiu-hong said the concerns raised by legislators were too far-fetched but that he would consider their views.

'We are convinced this bill is consistent with what we should do to fulfil our obligations under the Basic Law, including protecting human rights,' he said.

Mr Tong also said there had to be some form of penalties set out in the bill to deal with officers who breached it.

'We are talking about protection of rights enshrined in the constitution - what are the deterrent effects of this bill?' he asked. 'Disciplinary action against public servants is not made public. How are we to know if they have been penalised?'

The government's proposals were initially broadly welcomed when they were issued in February, but lawmakers have since found numerous issues in the bill's details.