Legislator urges law change to punish unapproved wiretapping

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 14 February, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 14 February, 2009, 12:00am

Legislator James To Kun-sun has suggested changing the surveillance law to include punishment for law enforcers who carry out unapproved wiretaps.

His call follows a warning by the High Court judge in charge of overseeing the law's implementation that the principle of legal professional privilege could be undermined. Mr Justice Woo Kwok-hing's warning was contained in his annual report, which detailed four cases of unauthorised tapping of phone conversations between lawyers and their clients in 2007.

Mr To urged the public not to underestimate the severity of Mr Justice Woo's criticisms. 'He has already gone to the very limit and used the harshest type of words for a judge,' said the Democratic Party lawmaker, who is vice-chairman of the Legislative Council's security panel.

Panel chairman Lau Kong-wah said the Independent Commission Against Corruption had its own disciplinary procedures, but that Mr To's suggestion could be considered.

'The first thing we have to do is clarify the current situation. All this happened in 2007. What about in 2008? Is it still going on?' said Mr Lau.

In one case described in the report, an ICAC wiretap of a conversation between a lawyer and client continued for 13/4 hours after authorisation for the tap had been revoked. When Mr Justice Woo, the commissioner on interception of communications and surveillance, made inquiries about it, he was told records of the wiretap had been destroyed as a matter of policy.

In another case, an ICAC officer did not report to his supervisor a wiretap involving legal professional privilege, and listened to a further 20-plus calls connected with the case until the surveillance operation ceased. Summaries of the operation were destroyed, without explanation, a day after the commissioner inquired about them.

Mr Justice Woo said legal professional privilege 'might be gravely endangered' if law enforcers decided when wiretaps should stop, rather than the judges empanelled to do so.

A government spokesman said the report did not show sufficient evidence of wilful or deliberate flouting of the law.