August 12, 2006, The Sunday Telegraph
HONG Kong has appointed judge Woo Kwok-hing as its first Commissioner of Interception of Communications - a title that is causing as much grim mirth as the commission itself is causing angst among the city's frustrated democrats.
The establishment of the commission followed nearly 150 hours of often fierce debate in the 60-member Legislative Council, Hong Kong's parliament.
The democratic parties expressed concern that, as legislator Emily Lau said, "the law may be used to target political enemies".
But they were, as usual, outmanoeuvred in the parliament, which includes many pro-government appointees, and finally walked out in protest, leaving the law to pass 32-0.
The Hong Kong Journalists Association also opposed the law, which permits covert surveillance of reporters, complaining that their contacts would become targets of secret interception, and sources of information would be lost.
The commission, comprising three judges appointed on Wednesday, will issue warrants from secret courts that give law enforcement agencies the right to read emails and post, bug homes and offices, tap phones and follow suspects.
Justice Woo issued a statement about his "hefty and important" new role, in which he said: "I am deeply conscious of the trust reposed in me to ensure that all (secret operations) must be in accordance with the law and will not be unjustifiably undertaken."
Beijing - which refuses to approve democratic elections in Hong Kong until all candidates can be proved "patriotic" supporters of the People's Republic - has been pressing for a tougher security regime since Hong Kong reverted to Chinese sovereignty nine years ago.
Other observers of Hong Kong have focused on the pomposity of the judge's title, comparing it to Gilbert and Sullivan's comic opera The Mikado, in which Ko-ko becomes Lord High Executioner and Pooh-Bah becomes Lord High Everything Else.