Rights group wants review of spy bill after a year

PUBLISHED : Monday, 26 June, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 26 June, 2006, 12:00am

The covert surveillance bill, which the government aims to fast-track to meet a court-imposed deadline, should be reviewed after a year because of the lack of public consultation, a rights group said.

Human Rights Monitor chairwoman Cyd Ho Sau-lan said the government could learn from Britain, which rushed to pass anti-terrorism laws after the September 11, 2001, attacks but also introduced a sunset clause in the legislation.

'The business sector, in particular, should voice their opinions about the legislation because it concerns them as well,' she said at a Civic Party forum.

Ms Ho said the bill was complicated and similar to the Article 23 national security legislation which was shelved due to a lack of public support.

'What we need is a law that protects Hong Kong people's rights, not a legal procedure which permits the violation of people's rights,' she said.

But Civic Party lawmaker Margaret Ng Ngoi-yee was not optimistic that the government would review the bill.

The party has criticised the proposed legislation, saying it would enable the government to legitimately snoop when investigating 'virtually any crime', and the protection it offered was limited.

For example, the bill now allows authorities to investigate crimes resulting in jail sentences of three years or more but Ms Ng and barrister Joseph Tse said the threshold should be set at seven years.

The party also wants surveillance material, including tapes, to be preserved in case targets were found not to be involved in any crime. Ms Ng said the bill currently proposes authorities destroy the materials if they learn suspects were not involved in crimes.

'These materials should be preserved for the victims to decide if they want any compensation,' she said.

The bill must be passed before an August 8 court deadline.