'Public security' could be open to abuse, say critics Law enforcement officers needed the power to conduct covert surveillance on the grounds of public security to stop terrorists and transnational criminals using the city as a base, lawmakers heard yesterday. Permanent Secretary for Security Stanley Ying Yiu-hong said the Interception of Communications and Surveillance Bill must have provision for such methods in cases that did not involve the commission of a serious crime in Hong Kong. The Legislative Council Bills Committee is debating the bill, which states that law enforcement agents may be authorised to use hidden surveillance devices to prevent or detect serious crime or protect public security. Lawmakers have questioned why the term 'public security' is necessary, given that it lacks a precise definition and may broaden the scope of the powers given to officers. They asked what was covered by public security that did not constitute a serious crime in Hong Kong. Mr Ying told of a case where intelligence suggested a person living in the city belonged to a clandestine overseas network and was involved in smuggling materials used to produce weapons of mass destruction in another country. 'The intelligence did not suggest an offence was necessarily to be committed in Hong Kong, but for public security reasons we had to conduct covert surveillance on [the suspect] here,' he said. Mr Ying added further examples, such as human trafficking and a drugs-for-missiles case. 'It is in the interest of Hong Kong's own public security to contribute towards the effort to combat international terrorism ... failure to do so could make Hong Kong an attractive base for terrorists and transnational criminal elements, ultimately affecting our own public security.' Legco was also considering a provision to ensure that the 'public security' term would not be used for political purposes or to suppress Basic Law rights. But some lawmakers remained unconvinced. Unionist Lee Cheuk-yan said the scope remained too wide. He was concerned that the government would carry out surveillance on mainland intelligence subjects, such as the Falun Gong, effectively carrying out tasks for the mainland security bureau.