Surveillance watchdog seeks power to listen to intercepted material

Secretary for Security wants legal right for commissioner to hear intercepted material

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 04 December, 2013, 4:29am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 04 December, 2013, 4:29am

The government will table a proposal to the Legislative Council next year asking for the surveillance watchdog to be given the power to listen to intercepted materials to investigate possible violations of the law by enforcement agencies.

Secretary for Security Lai Tung-kwok made the remarks in the Legco security panel meeting yesterday afternoon, adding that the government was seeking advice from the Department of Justice on the matter.

"The first draft has been sent to the Department of Justice already. We are following up with the department's law drafting division," Lai said.

He made the remarks hours after Mr Justice Darryl Gordon Saw, Commissioner on Interception of Communications and Surveillance, released his report about the law enforcement agencies' performance in their compliance with the Interception of Communications and Surveillance Ordinance.

At present, the commissioner does not have the right to listen to the agencies' intercepted materials. But the commissioner can make inquires to the agencies to check possible non-compliance with the ordinance.

This raised concerns from lawmakers, including the Civic Party's Dennis Kwok Wing-hang, who feared the inability to listen to intercepted materials could hinder the commissioner's work.

Ten irregularities concerning compliance with the ordinance were found last year.

In one case in March, a surveillance device storekeeper made a false report concerning why the return of three devices was not recorded.

The keeper initially said there was no record of the return because there was a power failure in the store. It was later discovered the keeper made up the story to cover up for negligence in not recording the return of the devices.

"If you look into my report, you will see there is no case of actual non-compliance. All the cases are irregularities, and none of them have any sinister overtones," the commissioner said.

A total of 1,180 interception authorisations were issued last year. Seven applications were refused, with some due to inadequate material to support the allegations against the surveillance target.

A total of 249 people were arrested last year as a result of covert surveillance activities.