Public needs reassuring over anti-terrorism unit

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 29 March, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 29 March, 2011, 12:00am

Since the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Centre in 2001, governments around the world have understandably been on heightened alert for potential terrorist strikes. Continued attacks on cities around the world have proven there is a sizeable population of extremists who prefer to assert their ideologies by taking lives of innocent people.

But despite these constant reminders, cities around the world are still being caught off guard. Hong Kong does not appear to be an obvious target, but terrorists succeed by being unpredictable. Furthermore, Hong Kong aims to be a global city hosting international events, renowned as much for our financial services as for our liberal values and openness to different cultures. Quite rightly, Hong Kong should be fully prepared for the worst.

Nonetheless, the recent decision to create 104 more posts for anti-terrorism work, including a 60-strong team to protect 'critical infrastructure,' requires further scrutiny. Why are we doing this now? Have we received new intelligence about possible attacks? Have we discovered flaws in our current security set-up? Have we been unprepared all these years? Why has our police commissioner been urged by Beijing to step up anti-terrorist efforts only now? So far, we have been assured that the risk of an attack in Hong Kong has not increased, but that we must nevertheless increase anti-terrorist units which by nature must operate under absolute secrecy.

No one expects a full public airing of any gaps in our security, or sharing of all the government's anti-terrorist information. But nor can we accept a simple assertion from the administration of the need for more top-secret units. The increase in measures to counter terrorism alters the balance against civil liberties. But before such a balance can be readjusted, the public must be reassured it is necessary. There has not been any suggestion of amending laws, but still, there will be new co-ordination centres and more patrols of 'critical infrastructure' by units of which no questions can be asked - not for preventing crime, but because of a 'moderate' terrorist risk which is not worsening. This is hardly a full explanation.