Legco chief rules out changes on snooping

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 02 August, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 02 August, 2006, 12:00am

The Legco president last night blocked amendments to broaden the powers of a proposed watchdog on government agents carrying out covert surveillance. The amendments would have given the watchdog the power to order compensation for innocent parties.

But an amendment moved by Civic Party legislator Margaret Ng Ngoi-yee requesting a 'sunset clause' allowing the law to expire after two years can be tabled.

Rita Fan Hsu Lai-tai's ruling blocked about 20 amendments which were to have been moved by Democrat James To Kun-sun and Ms Ng when the legislature begins debate and votes on the controversial covert surveillance bill today.

With the amendments, the legislators had been seeking to broaden the powers of the commissioner of a watchdog on government covert surveillance, allowing the commissioner to order compensation for innocent parties and not just for surveillance subjects who complained to the watchdog.

The amendments, overruled because they would affect government spending, would also have given the commissioner power to investigate whether bugging operations had been carried out without authorisation, whether or not there had been a complaint.

'The committee-stage amendment would require the commissioner to take a proactive approach to conducting examinations ... This would change the mode of operation,' Mrs Fan said in a ruling issued after midnight.

Her decision blocked Mr To's amendment to give District Court judges the power to authorise some operations instead of these operations being authorised by the government, on the grounds that this would cost money.

Under the Basic Law, amendments to government bills moved by Legco members should not affect government spending or contradict government policies, unless written approval is given by the chief executive.