The legal sector's representative is worried over the chief executive's role The lawmaker presenting the legal profession yesterday voiced reservations about government proposals to handle covert surveillance. Margaret Ng Ngoi-yee said she had doubts over the proposal to allow the chief executive to appoint High Court judges to authorise covert surveillance and a commissioner to handle complaints. Ms Ng also said she was worried about the lack of sanctions for government staff who flouted the proposed regulations. 'It is a good thing that they have tabled this proposal, but it has far-reaching effects and I feel more discussions are needed,' she said. A senior government source said only police, Customs officers, the Immigration Department and the Independent Commission Against Corruption would be covered by the new regulations. Laws governing surveillance carried out by the private sector would take much longer to discuss and thus delay the process. Under the government's proposals, officers who breached the regulations while on duty would face internal disciplinary action instead of prosecution. But the source said that if bugging was carried out in a personal capacity, officers would be considered private citizens and would be subject to existing laws, including the Telecommunications Ordinance. Under the proposals, the chief executive, acting on recommendations from the chief justice, would appoint up to six High Court judges to form a panel to vet covert surveillance applications. Authorisation would be given only to cases involving serious crimes. Applications for intercepting telecommunications must involve crimes with a maximum penalty of seven years' jail, while those for covert surveillance must have a penalty of at least three years' jail or a $1 million fine. Judges would be asked to handle only cases of a more intrusive nature. Those that were less intrusive would only require internal approval from a senior officer in the department concerned. The government defines more intrusive surveillance as involving the use of equipment such as recording devices and cameras. The chief executive also would be responsible for appointing an independent commissioner to audit covert surveillance operations and handle complaints from the public. The commissioner would be recommended by the chief justice and could be either a serving or retired High Court judge. Where irregularities were found, the commissioner could demand that action be taken by the head of the law enforcement agency concerned, and could also refer the case to the Department of Justice for possible legal action. The government is due to discuss its surveillance plans with the Legislative Council security panel on Tuesday and hopes regulations will take effect during the legislative year.