Covert-surveillance watchdog calls for law enforcers to drop posturing

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 27 November, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 27 November, 2012, 3:25am

The former head of a covert-surveillance watchdog says law enforcers should change their "defensive attitudes" when answering queries on their possible non-compliance with the law.

A better attitude would help safeguard the privacy rights of people under surveillance, said Mr Justice Woo Kwok-hing, who recently stepped down as the commissioner on interception of communications and surveillance.

"Some [law enforcement agencies] took too much of a defensive attitude towards my inquiries into cases of non-compliance … They obviously tried to prevent any blame," he said in a 340-page report.

The police, customs, immigration and graft-busters must apply to the courts before carrying out wiretapping. A court authorisation lasts for an average of 30 days.

Woo noted a surge in the number of cases in which the surveillance work might have violated the attorney-client privilege of the person under scrutiny.

The privilege protects all communication between lawyers and their clients from being disclosed without the client's permission.

In one case, a surveillance chief told his subordinate to listen in on a phone call to decide if it contained information that would be bound by the privilege. It turned out the call discussed a future court appearance.

Woo pointed to 30 abnormalities occurring last year.

Legislator James To Kun-sun said the commissioner should have the power to listen to intercepted conversations to aid judgments in investigations.