Lawmakers ask if judiciary will be held liable for security leaks

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 24 June, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 24 June, 2006, 12:00am

Legislators scrutinising the covert surveillance bill yesterday asked officials whether the judiciary could be sued if judges or support staff leaked or lost data gathered by covert surveillance.

The questions were prompted by the leaking of the personal data of 20,000 complainants to the Independent Police Complaints Council (IPCC), which led to some complainants suing the council for breach of privacy.

Lawmakers demanded to know whether the judiciary would be held responsible for any leak or loss of data, given that the judges vetting applications to tap phones and conduct covert surveillance would not be acting as members of the judiciary when they did so. Legislators also argued that the panel of three to six judges should be appointed by the chief justice.

But the government said the chief executive would make the appointments based on recommendations from the chief justice and the panel would be independent.

Democratic Party legislator Albert Ho Chun-yan said: 'After the IPCC incident, I am very worried. Where will the records be kept? If the information is leaked, who will be sued? Who will be responsible for record-keeping?

'If [the panel of judges] is part of the judiciary, the judiciary administration will be held responsible.'

Sealed packets and documents containing the results of covert surveillance would be kept in a secure room on judiciary premises, legislators were told. Data would be destroyed in accordance with guidelines the government would draw up.

Permanent Secretary for Security Stanley Ying Yiu-hong sought to assure the lawmakers that all documents and data would be kept secure. A Legco bills committee is racing through the bill to try to ensure scrutiny can be finished by July 12, when the council breaks for its summer recess. Legislators have completed a clause-by-clause scrutiny of the 65-clause bill. The committee resumes inspection of the bill today.

The government is trying to have legislation in place by August 8 to meet a court-imposed deadline.