A watchdog must have access to details of police wiretaps to protect the public from unauthorised surveillance, lawmakers said yesterday as they criticised the government for being too slow to amend laws.
One legislator at a Legislative Council security panel meeting described the system for regulating wiretaps as 'freakish' and said it was unreasonable to refer to overseas arrangements to deny requests by the Commissioner on Interception of Communications and Surveillance to listen to wiretap recordings.
Under current laws, law enforcement agencies must obtain authorisation from panel judges before making such interceptions. The commissioner will ensure agencies comply with the Interception of Communications and Surveillance Ordinance, a code of practice, and the conditions prescribed in authorisations.
Commissioner Mr Justice Woo Kwok-hing (pictured) said in a report in 2010 that he and his staff wanted express powers to listen to intercepted materials so they could investigate possible violations by law enforcement agencies. Current laws do not state that the commissioner is banned from gaining such access, but a ruling by the Supreme Court of Canada raised doubts about the legitimacy of listening to wiretaps.
It said the law to regulate wiretaps and covert surveillance did not entitle a privacy commissioner there to compel parties to reveal documents under lawyer-client privileges.
Undersecretary for Security Lai Tung-kwok told the panel that as some intercepted material might include information under lawyer-client privileges, the government would need to consider the public's rights in granting the commissioner the power to listen to the material.
Democrat James To Kun-sun said the public could only be protected from law enforcement agencies' unauthorised surveillance if the commissioner was given such power.
The Civic Party's Margaret Ng Ngoi-yee said the Canadian ruling should not be applied to Hong Kong. '[The government] has created a freakish system, so it's unreasonable to apply the Canada ruling here.'
Audrey Eu Yuet-mee, Ng's colleague, said the government was 'dragging its feet' on reviewing the laws. Lai said the government would present amendments to the panel by June.