Secretary for Justice Elsie Leung Oi-sie made a commendable effort on Thursday to spell out the 'one country' considerations and 'two system' safeguards behind the government's proposals to implement article 23 of the Basic Law. Whether officials in Beijing like what she said about 'one country' we have no way of telling. But doubts over the proposals certainly remained in the minds of media professionals who heard her speak at the Newspaper Society luncheon, despite her painstaking attempt to allay their concerns. The justice chief was uncharacteristically frank in likening fears about national security legislation to a knife hanging over people's heads. 'The knife has always been above your heads, although no one had bothered to take a close look at it,' she said. 'Our responsibility is to let everyone knows this [knife] has nothing to do with you [the media].' Miss Leung was also forthcoming in noting that journalists had to consider whether the public interest outweighed the risk of breaching the law in deciding to disclose information that they had obtained without proper authority. Given the broad definition of state secrets contained in the consultation paper, her words have failed to ease journalists' fears that the knife hanging over their heads is not only sharp, but has a long blade. For example, why should all information relating to relations between the central authorities and the SAR be protected? The official justification is that similar information relating to relations between Hong Kong and the United Kingdom was protected before 1997. Yet a past wrong should not be used to justify a new sin. The broad sweep of the old law has long been a subject of criticism. It is not enough for officials to assure that only unauthorised and damaging disclosures of such information will become a crime. It is far better to limit the scope of protected information, especially because the central authorities are still obsessed with secrecy. It is reassuring for Solicitor-General Robert Allcock to state that a central government decree to ban a mainland organisation on national security grounds, which would prompt the Secretary for Security to consider banning its local chapter, would not be regarded as an 'act of state' and that the courts would make the final decision on proscription. But the fundamental question remains as to why a mainland order should be allowed to trigger a decision in Hong Kong, when the Basic Law provides that Hong Kong has its own legal system and that mainland administrative and judicial decisions do not apply here. Moreover, the Societies Ordinance already empowers the local authorities to prohibit the operation of a society on national security grounds. The proposal that permanent residents could fall foul of the law should their country become involved in a military conflict with China is also worrying. While those who have adopted the SAR as their home should be expected to show some degree of allegiance to Hong Kong, permanent residents are not Chinese nationals. It would be wrong, for instance, if the proposed law were to be used to prosecute permanent residents who did no more than take part in a rally against China in their home country. Over the past three weeks, officials have tried to make numerous assurances that the proposed legislation would contain no 'devils'. It is important that those promises are borne out in the draft bill, preferably a white one that allows for a thorough consultation before being introduced to the legislature.