Mistakes revealed in spying operations

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 01 December, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 01 December, 2009, 12:00am

Law enforcement agencies committed 11 irregularities in spying last year, including one case in which an officer behaved in an 'arrogant and presumptuous' manner towards the covert-surveillance watchdog.

In a different case, Mr Justice Woo Kwok-hing, Commissioner on Interception of Communications and Surveillance, reported that six graft-busters wasted five days watching a facility that was not only the wrong place but was occupied by a person of the wrong sex.

In his annual report to the chief executive submitted to the Legislative Council yesterday, Woo, who is also a vice-president of the Court of Appeal, said his office received 1,745 written applications for call interceptions, and 11 reports of irregularities.

Of an officer responsible for interception records and documents, Woo said: 'His attitude towards my oversight and review functions was arrogant and presumptuous, bordering on recalcitrance.'

The officer had been asked to provide a copy of call records in a case in which an interception lasted six to 18 minutes longer than authorised.

But he told the commissioner no data had been obtained during that time. Pressed, the officer said there had been no calls but provided no documentary evidence. He later said his response was based on a system log which was not preserved. Woo was disappointed with the attitude of the officer, 'Z', and 'I was surprised that officer Z did not feel the need to preserve evidence to support his claim of no communication'.

In another case, the Independent Commission Against Corruption started investigating a complaint involving an establishment described as 'Facility X'. But in making an internal request for surveillance, a senior investigator transposed two numbers, resulting in the surveillance being mounted on a place called 'Facility Y'.

He discovered this four days later and reported it to his supervisor, a chief investigator. But the interception was not terminated until the listener reported that the user of the facility appeared to be male, instead of the subject, who was female.

Woo said 'the checking and verification procedures practised by the ICAC at the time failed to work effectively'. He also said the disciplinary action by the ICAC seemed disproportionate. The fact that the chief investigator, who was the 'main culprit and chiefly accountable for the unauthorised interception', only received a warning, the same as the senior investigator, seemed to play down the mistakes of the chief investigator.

But the ICAC remained of the view that the disciplinary actions were not inappropriate.

A total of 1,719 authorisations on interception and 198 on surveillance operations were granted last year, leading to 603 arrests by police, customs, immigration, ICAC and others.

The Security Bureau said the covert-surveillance-law regime had continued to operate smoothly.

'While there were two cases of more serious non-compliance, the commissioner has not found any wilful or deliberate flouting of the requirements of the ordinance,' a bureau paper submitted to the Legislative Council yesterday stated.