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Last Updated: Wednesday, 2 August 2006, 05:57 GMT 06:57 UK
Hong Kong debates 'spying law'
By Vaudine England
BBC correspondent in Hong Kong

Phone booths in Hong Kong - archive picture
The bill includes provisions to tap telephones
Hong Kong's Legislative Council has begun final readings of a bill to regulate the government's use of phone tapping and covert surveillance.

The controversial nature of the bill means days of debate are still expected as hundreds of amendments are tabled.

But the government seems assured of passing its version of a spy law.

The debate comes at a time of rising concern about government spying around the world.

Hong Kong first got a government spying law almost 10 years ago, in the last days of the British administration.

As was usual then, the law had a clause announcing its implementation at a date to be determined by the governor. But the governor was gone three days later and the law never came into force.

Intense debate

Now Hong Kong's lawmakers are debating the Interception of Communications and Surveillance Bill.

Like the earlier one, it seeks to regulate how the police and other law enforcement bodies may conduct covert surveillance or tap telephones.

It forces them to secure proper authority beforehand. Debate is intense, however, on what level of authority is best.

Civil rights defenders believe the law is open to abuse by government. They have tabled around 100 amendments trying to toughen protection clauses.

The government insists the law will not be used for any political purposes and that it offers hitherto unknown levels of privacy and legal redress to Hong Kong people.

Concerns that the law could allow for spying on members of the political opposition are persuading members of the Democrat party and others to veto this bill.

Legislators have been called back from summer recess to participate, but parties backing the government are expected to have the numbers to pass it regardless after the next few days of marathon debate.


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