Political phone tapping denied

TELEPHONES were never bugged for political purposes, the Government said.

All interception was ''wholly within the parameters of the law'', said acting Secretary for Security, Ken Woodhouse.

The Governor would only authorise interception to prevent or detect serious crime including corruption, or to monitor threats to security, he said in reply to Christine Loh Kung-wai.

Several legislators asked whether political or social leaders, who might be seen as a potential threat to security, had ever been bugged.

And independent Emily Lau Wai-hing asked whether the Government considered the Communist Party a threat to security and intercepted its telephone messages.

Mr Woodhouse, though accepting that internal political problems could threaten security, did not respond.

He merely reiterated that the Government had never bugged telephones for political reasons.

''I regret that I haven't been able to convince the honourable member by my repeated denial that there is no intercept for political purposes but I can merely repeat that.

''That is the truth.'' Mr Woodhouse refused to disclose how many warrants were granted for interception.

Such information could only benefit criminals, he said.

The time limit for warrants ranged from a few hours to six months, he said.

But he revealed that only two public officers, the director of police Special Branch and the head of the Operations Department of the Independent Commission Against Corruption, were authorised by the Governor to intercept phone messages.

All information gathered through telephone bugging was destroyed after investigation and there were stringent conditions governing access to and distribution of such information.

Mr Woodhouse said there were no plans to hand over information to anyone after 1997. Only information related to cases still under investigation would be kept.