Snooping: a marathon begins

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 03 August, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 03 August, 2006, 12:00am

After nearly 12 hours, lawmakers call it a night on clause two of a 65-clause bill

Legco yesterday gave approval for vetting of the controversial covert surveillance bill to go ahead in a marathon session despite impassioned speeches against the move.

Apart from disruptions, when a quorum twice had to be called for and a suspension when president Rita Fan Hsu Lai-tai told lawmaker 'Long Hair' Leung Kwok-hung to stick to the clause being discussed, the meeting progressed much as expected, with enough votes for the government to push through the bill and its amendments.

Lawmakers ended the night at 10.15pm on clause two of the 65-clause bill after nearly 12 hours of debate. As expected, none of the amendments proposed by lawmakers Margaret Ng Ngoi-yee and James To Kun-sun were passed while all the government amendments went through.

Secretary for Security Ambrose Lee Siu-kwong said the bill had been the result of detailed scrutiny and consultation through three Law Reform Commission reports over the years.

'You can see after considering the proposals of members and other sectors of the community, we are now proposing 189 committee-stage amendments,' he said. 'Law enforcement agents will not use the reason of public security to achieve a political purpose.'

He said amendments seeking to include surveillance without the use of devices were not practical and would damage law-enforcement actions.

Mr Lee rejected a proposal for a sunset clause - allowing the law to expire after two years. He said the government would conduct a review by the end of 2009.

Democratic Party chairman Lee Wing-tat said the bill failed to protect against breaches of human rights but the party voted for resumption of the second reading in the hope of getting some of its more than 200 amendments passed. The second reading vote yielded 38 votes for and 12 against.

The Frontier's Emily Lau Wai-hing said terms such as 'reasonable expectation of privacy' in the bill meant people's privacy was not secure, even in their own homes, unless they 'draw thick curtains over the windows'. Chim Pui-chung, of the financial sector, who opposed the bill, called for members to 'vote according to their conscience' while Democratic Aliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong lawmaker Li Kwok-ying said members were 'duty-bound to support passage of the bill.' Mr Li said law enforcement agents had to be granted the tools to prevent and detect crime or the consequences would be unimaginable.

Miriam Lau Kin-yee of the Liberal Party said the bill struck a good balance.

The meeting continues today, with its outcome in the next few days summed up by medical legislator Kwok Ka-ki: 'Given that this council is not a directly elected one, the bill will be passed.'