HONG KONG: Activists challenge government snooping

November 17, 1993

Eva Cheng

On July 12, rebel legislator "Long Hair" Leung Kwok-hung and fellow pro-democracy activist Koo Sze-yiu won a partial victory against the Hong Kong government in the Court of Final Appeal, and were awarded their legal costs for the case.

The activists were challenging the government's covert surveillance of their activities and communications. Earlier this year they had filed for a judicial review of the executive order issued by Hong Kong's chief executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen that authorises such surveillance.

According to the February 10 South China Morning Post, High Court Justice Michael Hartmann found in a February 9 judgement that the section of the Telecommunications Ordinance that empowers Tsang to authorise phone-tapping was inconsistent with guarantees of the right to free and private communication under the Basic Law — Hong Kong's "mini-constitution".

However, Hartmann also gave the Hong Kong government six months — until August 8 — of "temporary validity" to continue its spying activities. This prompted Leung and Koo to take the case to the Court of Final Appeal.

While Justice Kemal Bokhary's July 12 judgement set aside Hartmann's "temporary validity" order, Bokhary also suspended Hartmann's declaration that the order authorising phone-tapping was unconstitutional. According to a July 13 Hong Kong Standard report, this suspension means that "Hartmann's ruling will not come into force until August 8, effectively allowing covert operations to continue between February 9 and August 8". However Bokhary made it clear that the government would not be "shielded from legal liability" for surveillance activities during those six months.

A new law authorising government phone-tapping is scheduled for voting at the Legislative Council on August 2.

Yahoo news reported on July 13 that according to government statistics, between February and May 19, there were 151 cases of phone-tapping in addition to 238 cases of covert surveillance.

From Green Left Weekly, July 19, 2006.
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