Concerns about threat to freedoms spur calls for safeguards against abuse Hong Kong's opinion leaders and decision-makers want the proposed covert surveillance law to provide more protection against snoopers, an SCMP/TNS poll has found. They fear the law may infringe some basic rights and freedoms and want it expanded to cover more than local law enforcement agencies. And 17 per cent of those surveyed believe they have already been the target of covert surveillance by one or more of the following: Hong Kong law enforcement agents (10 per cent), mainland agents (9 per cent) or overseas agents (5 per cent). With the bill still under discussion in the Legislative Council ahead of the August 8 deadline for enactment ordered by the High Court, most respondents felt concerned by some of its key aspects. Of the 303 respondents interviewed between June 7 and 16, most expressed concern over the possibility the bill could be used to suppress freedoms of expression or assembly (79 per cent) or to monitor political opponents (67 per cent). Lawmakers critical of the bill say the poll has vindicated their calls for the legislation to include procedural safeguards to prevent abuse. 'I certainly hope the government will sit up and listen,' Civic Party legislator Ronny Tong Ka-wah said. 'If you've got the movers and shakers of the community feeling uncomfortable with a law like this, it is time for the government to give them a better deal.' But Lau Kong-wah, of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, said the bill took account of the concerns raised by the respondents. 'They rate both privacy and social order as having the same importance - that is the purpose of members in Legco dealing with the bill.' Fifty-six per cent of respondents felt that privacy and social order were equally important, while 31 per cent said privacy was more important than social order and 14 per cent putting social order ahead of privacy. The vast majority - 72 per cent - said the panel of judges responsible for vetting surveillance applications should be appointed by the chief justice rather than the chief executive, as the bill now proposes. More than 80 per cent were 'somewhat or very concerned' that privileged discussions between lawyers and their clients could be subjected to covert surveillance. Only 20 per cent felt that the present extent of the bill was sufficient to regulate covert surveillance, with most respondents believing the bill should be broadened to regulate surveillance carried out by mainland and overseas law enforcement agents, journalists/paparazzi and undercover operations that did not use surveillance equipment. If individuals had been wrongly placed under surveillance, more than two-thirds of respondents felt that the concerned individuals should be informed. Thomas Isaac, TNS director of research services, said it was significant that even though the bill sought to regulate a previously unregulated area, most respondents felt it did not go far enough. 'There also seems to be quite a bit of concern that there is an opportunity for misuse - most [respondents] have said that it could be used for suppressing freedom of expression and so on,' he said. The interviewees were aged 25 or above, had a household income of at least $40,000 and were either strategic business decision-makers or opinion leaders such as members of professional committees or government advisers. The poll had a confidence level of 95 per cent.