LEGISLATORS will ask government departments how they plan to implement a bill protecting personal data when no overall code of practice currently exists. Principal Assistant Secretary for Home Affairs Robin McLeish said yesterday each department could end up formulating its own code to put the Personal Data (Privacy) Bill into effect. His branch had no plans to help co-ordinate such a code, he said. Under the bill, a privacy commissioner with a background in law, information technology and rights is to help professions draw up codes. Mr McLeish told a Legislative Council bills committee his branch might not even need a code of practice, adding that internal guidelines or memos would be sufficient. But he admitted the Government would put itself at a disadvantage not drawing up codes of practice and would lose legal protection if someone filed a complaint. Bills committee chairman Emily Lau Wai-hing said members would contact departments to see how they planned to cope with the new bill. Legislator Peter Wong Hong-yuen was concerned the Hospital Authority, which had spent about $200 million on computers, might have to renew its system to comply with the bill. Legislator Anna Wu Hung-yuk also questioned if the codes would deal with procedures to destroy personal data that was no longer useful. Christine Loh Kung-wai questioned the purpose of codes of practice when the law would take effect even without them. Mr McLeish said the codes would improve compliance with legislation. But an expert has warned experience in other countries showed coming up with such codes might take years. Law Reform Commission consultant Mark Berthold said in Australia getting a code worked out had taken five years. Industries drawing up their own codes without following those drawn up by the commissioner would not be legally protected. The privacy commissioner is expected to give high priority to drawing up codes for areas with sensitive data which might be vulnerable to complaints. That will include the medical profession, hospitals, financial institutions and government. Legislators were told yesterday the commissioner would have a five-year tenure, but could be removed by the Governor with the backing of Legco. His office of 30 people will be funded from various sources, including up to $25 million from taxpayers. Up to eight people will be appointed by the Governor to sit on an advisory committee to help the commissioner on general policies. The committee will have at least one information technology expert and one government representative.